Category Archives: Paper

Field Notes Utility–End of Book Review

I let my colleague from England handle one of my Field Notes Utility notebooks and he was so impressed by the paper that I gave him one of my copies.

The paper is what I like best about the notebook although there are a few issues with the notebooks themselves.

The Field Notes Utility edition has an attention getting Safety Yellow and black cover that has the interesting touch of showing you what flavor of paper is inside. The Utility comes in two rulings: Ledger and Engineer Grid.

(Note to Field Notes: How about a special set of notebooks served in three bundles of two: Two grid, two lined, and two blank? Or how about just a very special edition with blank pages? You could call it the “Shut-up Lively” Edition.)

The cover of the Field Notes Utility edition with the ledger sample at the bottom.

I started with the ledger version because I figure it’s the version I’ll like the best. It’s the closest to lines and I’m not a huge fan of engineer grid pages. The ledger style also seems like a natural fit for a bullet journal, To-do lists, or 10 Ideas lists.

The paper itself is an impressive 70# “Pure White” Mohawk Via Vellum ruled in something called “Get-It-Done Gray,” (That should be “Git-R-Done” gray as that is what I always call it by accident. I understand that there may be trademark issues involved with that.) The paper makes it one of my favorite Field Notes notebooks as it handles fountain pens and fountain pen inks well. It even handled Wancher Matcha admirably.

It does have a lot of tooth to it, which means the only thing that didn’t feel right, and I found this very odd, were fine tipped gel pens. Also, my Pilot Prera stub nib didn’t work very well, but that may have been because of the Kyo-iro Stone Road of Gion ink which I find to be a rather dry ink, albeit with a terrific color.

Several inks in my horrible handwriting. You also get a good look at the ledger ruling.

The back side of the same page. For Wancher Matcha, that is an excellent result.

Where most people have had problems is with Utility’s covers. First, because the notebook has heavy paper it is thicker than most Field Notes editions. This led to some people opening fresh packs to discover spines split from the first staple to the end. I didn’t have that trouble but it is something to be worried about when buying a pack.

This is the worst damage done to the spine. Note the black staple.

The other issue people have had is the fact the cover comes with a built in fold-out ruler with both inches and centimeters. To accommodate this the back cover doesn’t completely cover the paper as if the cover had been poorly cut during the production process. I haven’t found this to be a problem, although it does feel funny when you flip through pages.

I like having the combined inches/centimeter ruler and plan to cut it off to use a bookmark for future editions.

The underside of the fold-out ruler.

Although the Utility is one of my favorite editions, at least in ledger form, it’s a difficult notebook to recommend for first time Field Notes notebook users. Although the color is great, the cover is odd. I’ve also not tried the engineer grid yet. As I suspect I won’t like it as much, it may be too soon to offer a proper review.

Field Notes Black Ice–End of Book Review

I like everything about the Field Notes Black Ice limited edition except the cover, and even that doesn’t bother me very much.

With the entire cover foil stamped and with orange binding tape on the PUR bound spine, the Black Ice seems designed to attract attention in ways that other Field Notes limited editions aren’t. The America the Beautiful edition is gorgeous and nostalgic, but it won’t flash sunlight in someone’s eyes all the way across the room. You can’t signal a rescue helicopter with it, either.

The foil stamped cover is reflective, but you can’t see your face clearly in it and it doesn’t show finger prints unless you look closely at them.

Finally got Black Ice from @fieldnotesbrand #fieldnotes #selfie #notebooks #penaddict

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The PUR binding is also interesting because it makes the Black Ice the first Field Notes limited edition of this size to be made without staples. (The Byline was a different format.) There isn’t anything particular special about this, except to give the notebook a different look. It does take a little effort to make it open flat though. You have to force the binding flat in a way that would crack the spine of a paperback book but doesn’t damage the Black Ice’s spine. This gets the user an extra bit of space (5 mm)on each page.

What wins my heart, though, is the paper. The 70# “Bright White” Finch Fine Smooth held up well to every ink I used on it. The only exception was Wancher Matcha, of course. It’s a heart breaker. It breaks hearts.

I prefer blank notebooks (are you listening Field Notes people?) but the gray lines are subdued enough they don’t dominate the page. The orange accent lines at the top are nice to look at, but I personally could live without them.

Wancher Matcha breaking hearts. For Matcha, though, this isn’t that bad.

My only complaint about the design is that, over time, the orange inner cover tends to rub color on the first and last pages. Also, because the cover stock is slick, it’s difficult to write on.

I’ve been really pleased with the Black Ice and it’s made its way into my top five Field Notes notebooks–which I will someday post–although this is mostly for the paper and the PUR binding not the foil stamped cover.

The Black Ice is also one of the few special editions that I’ve passed out to colleagues. The one who got Black Ice seems to like it a lot.

Monokaki Pocket Notebook–End of Book Review

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: There’s this really cool notebook that claims that it’s the notebook of Nobel Prize winning writers.

Although the way a  famous notebook brand uses this story is somewhat dodgy (and is most accurately described as “famous people used a notebook that looked kind of like this”) in the case of Masuya’s Motokaki notebook, there appears to be some truth to the story. The notebook was, as near as I can find, made in 1939 for Fumio Niwa, author of The Buddha Tree. Since then it’s been used by other Japanese writers.

Note: Please keep in mind that none of this impresses me. In fact, when I learned about the story behind the more famous notebook, I felt kind of sad, as if I’d been duped, even though I hadn’t read the story beforehand.

Two Monokaki Pocket Notebooks. The one being reviewed is the one on the right.

The Monokaki Pocket Notebook I used was terrific. It is one of the most fountain pen friendly notebooks I’ve ever used.

The notebook contains 128 pages of Masuya’s cream colored, acid free Kotobukiya paper. I used the version with a light grid, but it also comes in blank and ruled versions. The off-white cover is made of thick Japanese washi paper with a woodblock print inspired pattern designed by Ryo Takagi. The end pages are black (charcoal gray?) paper and help add some support to the notebook when you’re holding it in your hand as you write.

Detail of the fountain pen and ink bottle on the cover. Also, detail of the wear on the spine.

At 140 mm (5.5 inches) tall and 85 mm (3.35 inches) wide the notebook is roughly the same length as a Field Notes Notebook, but slightly narrower. Because it’s made of eight sewn signatures, it lays flat when it’s open, which is not true of many smaller perfect bound notebooks.

Detail of the end pages and the notebook’s construction. If you zoom you can see the individual signatures.

Although the paper is thin, it handles fountain pens extremely well. There is a lot of show through, which might bother some people, but very little bleed. In fact, the only ink that bled consistently was Wancher Matcha, which is always a heartbreaker. It breaks hearts.

Wancher Matcha bleeding through the page. It is a heartbreaker. It breaks hearts. Also, nice detail of the grid pattern.

The only real complaint I have with the notebook is more a matter of taste than a problem. As a rule, I don’t like solid grids on notebook pages as they break up the lines. Yeah, you have to look fairly close, sometimes, to notice, but it bothers me. Ruled pages I don’t mind as much because I don’t have to cross the lines, but I prefer blank pages in small notebooks. (Actually, in all notebooks, but more on that in a future post.)

The Monokaki Pocket Notebook has entered my top five pocket notebooks. I have a blank version yet to use, and I may bump it forward in my notebook queue.



Giving Away the Old But Still New

At first they laughed. Then they took the notebooks. It solved problems for all of us.

Over a decade ago an online stationery shop I used on occasion went out of business when the owner graduated from school, got a “real” job, and no longer had time to dedicate to the business.

(Note: I cannot, for the life of me, remember the name of the shop, nor can I find any old links to it.)

Before the site shut down, though, the owner dumped the last of her inventory at surprisingly good prices. Because of this huge discount, I managed to acquire four large Moleskine notebooks (three lined, one blank) for around the price of one and a half Moleskine notebooks in Japan.

However, because I already had one notebook in use, and another in my notebook queue (oh, like you don’t have one) the four notebooks got stuffed into a drawer. Where they remained, still sealed in plastic, for over a decade.

In fact, if I’m remember the timing correctly, I may have got those four notebooks before we got our youngest daughter.

During yesterday’s office cleaning I pulled the four notebooks out of the drawer and looked them over. They looked to be in good shape with no obvious signs of mold or age. Because they are older Moleskine notebooks, they still have reasonably decent paper compared to more contemporary versions. I thought about keeping them, but then quickly decided to give them away as I no longer use large notebooks. (Instead I use a large number of small notebooks.)

As I have with Field Notes notebooks, I took them to school. With the Field Notes notebooks, I gave limited editions to my fellow foreign staff and left the craft cover versions in the main teachers’ office where they quickly disappeared. With the Moleskines, though, I walked around the English department repeating “free notebooks, really cheap, free notebooks, really cheap, take all you want.”

At first everyone who saw them laughed and then went “really?” I explained how they hadn’t cost me that much and how I’d never use them and wanted to get them into the hands of people who would use them.

I quickly passed out all four to Japanese teachers of various ages and watched as, for the first time in over a decade, the plastic wrap was removed and the notebooks were put to use.

It was oddly satisfying, especially as I now have room for more notebooks which, I realize, kind of defeats the point of giving some away.

The 18th Mitsukoshi Fountain Pen Festival

It was the food that made me mad and that probably jaded my reaction to today. Well, that and the long wait.

To understand what’s wrong with the Mitsukoshi Fountain Pen Festival (and the Maruzen version, for that matter) you have to imagine the oldest, most prestigious department store in your town or city holding an annual festival featuring socks.

The store invites a few makers who demonstrate different techniques for making socks, and who will fix your worn out socks if you’re lucky enough to get an appointment, they may even offer a Sock Festival exclusive pair of socks, but mostly what’s being sold is stock from the store and it’s being sold by the clerks who sell it every day. They can recite materials and manufacturing techniques and statistics and even let you handle some of the material but they do so without passion. They have a product, they sell it, but it’s no more important to the store than the food being sold nearby or the fine China on the other side of the festival space.

Today, to get to the Fountain Pen Festival, I had to walk through a large food event that brought dozens and dozens of noisy people. The food displays ended right across the walking path from the fountain pen festival but the noise traveled quite far. During a special fountain pen art display, and short speech by the head of Pelikan Japan, the speakers had to use microphones to speak to the dozen or so people gathered to participate or listen whilst behind the audience food salesman hawked their wares.

And, of course, pictures were not allowed.

Despite this, I set out to have a good time, and tried to crash the Sailor pen experts repair line to get my Nagasawa Profit’s nib straightened. He sent me to a different counter to get an appointment. Although it was noon, my appointment was for 3:15. This wouldn’t have bothered me except I was pretty sure that in the time it took me to fill out my name on the card he could have straightened the nib and been done with me. I was annoyed enough that I went to Maruzen for lunch (yes, I had lunch at at bookstore. So what? I had ice cream too.)

One thing I like about the Mitsukoshi pen festival–and it is my favorite of the two–is that many of the manufacturers, especially Pilot, Platinum, Nakaya, Eboya and Pelikan have sample pens for  you to try. In the past, though, they’ve also had two tables of samples, complete with lots of notepads. This year, though, the tables were gone and it took me an hour to realize that they’d been moved to a single table mixed in with the counters. I’d thought it was a pen manufacturer and had passed it a couple times.

Eventually, I sat down and started testing different pens, but the table also featured a woman whose job, it seemed, was talk incessantly to the man sitting next to me. I’m still not certain if I crashed an appointment or not, but at that point I was in “don’t understand if it’s not convenient” mode.

(Note: this mode is a variation on “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission” but in this case it’s easier to pretend you don’t understand what’s being said and just keep doing what you’re doing.)

Whilst checking out the Aurora table and the Optima’s and 88s, I saw a bottle of Aurora Blue-Black ink. It quickly became mine. (Later I came back and actually tried the pens.)

The only thing I bought:

Pilot had a special event where a handwriting expert (at least I assume that’s what he was) asked you to write with a pen that was wired to the board on which you were writing and that was connected to a computer. This action produced a computer read out of how you write, including the writing angle, which helped him choose a Pilot nib for you.

Finally, at 3:00, a Sailor counter person took pity on me and sent me to the Sailor repair man. As I predicted, he took less than five minutes to pull the feed and straighten the nib. I could have done all this myself, but as I hope to sell the pen, I thought it best to let an expert handle it.

After my pen was fixed, I exited as quickly as I could. If it hadn’t been for the noise, I’d have probably enjoyed it more. Well, except for the three hour wait. I doubt I could have handled that better.

A Little of That and Less of This

First it had to go, then I remembered a use for it, now it needs a place.

This means that Purge and Clean Day got off to a bad start.

I’ve written before about the process involved in culling pens, but there’s also an odd situation involved when culling the piles of random scraps of paper, half filled notebooks, full notebooks, empty notebooks, notes from old classes, assignments from old classes, roll sheets from old classes.

The latter three are the easiest to deal with: remove from folders, pull out staples, put everything in book bag, carry to shredder.

If I could do that with everything else, the process would be a lot easier.

Instead, the empty notebook pile gets reorganized and set aside. The full notebooks get set aside for later review as, by colossal coincidence, has been the case for the past several Purge and Clean Days.

The half-filled notebooks get the filled parts pulled out simultaneously creating more random scraps of paper and more empty notebooks.

The random scraps of paper then get reviewed. The trouble is that because so much paper was eliminated because of the old student related folders, it feels as if there’s plenty of room for the random scraps and therefore sorting them is not that much of a priority.

Today I looked at the pile of 10 Ideas from the past few years and threw them away. Then a couple minutes later I reconsidered and started copying a few of the more interesting ideas–see The Economic Reasons from the pen culling post.

This means I temporarily acted on the idea I had planned a year or so ago. I guess that counts as progress. At least it will once I figure out a place to store it. Of course this was a problem the last time I wrote about the ideas so the Purge and Clean Day needs some rethinking.



Spiral Bound Bits of Hell

After using them for a large portion of my education, I finally reached the conclusion that I hate spiral bound notebooks in all their various forms.

I only bring this up because at last year’s ISOT I was given a spiral notebook as a free sample from a Korean notebook manufacturer. I frowned inside at it, and since I have no poker face whatsoever that means I frowned outside at it too, but I accepted it because it was free and I was interested in the smartphone app that accompanied it. (As used notebooks pile up around me in the variety room/office, digitizing my scrawls and scraps has become increasingly important to me.) I put off testing it but feel that since it was given for evaluation it’s only fair that I evaluate it.

I’ll get to that review in another post. Today, though, I want to trash the binding. As I’ve used the notebook, I’ve begun to remember the reasons I stopped using spiral bound notebooks. (Note: I count anything bound with continuous metal rings as “spiral bound”.)

–The binding is thicker than the notebook which means the binding inevitably gets mashed and mangled if it’s carried in a bag.

–The binding is thicker than the notebook making them impossible to stack.

–If you do stack them, they wire binding gets stuck together.

–They only work well on one side but your hand rests on the binding when you’re using the other side which makes them uncomfortable to use.

Since I’m right handed, this is the only side of the spiral bound notebook that works for me.

This side sucks and leaves marks.

–When you tear pages out you get the fuzzy bits that seem to get all over everything.

–When you tear pages out there’s always a piece of fuzzy bit that gets stuck in the binding.

I remember professors insisting that we cut off the fuzzy bits before we turned in assignments. The fuzzy bits were only slightly less hated than the dreaded slippery plastic cover.

I’m more forgiving of top-bound notebooks like the Nock Co. DotDash Spiral Pad or the Field Notes Byline, especially as the Byline attempts to protect the binding, but they are still problematic.

I dug through some old writing journals and found an old spiral notebook I saved for some reason, probably the contents (more on those in a future post). The spiral is getting grungy and probably about to rust.

It may be time to digitize the contents and rid myself of the last remnants of spiral bound in the house. Well, at least once I finish the review of the one I got from Korea.




Fun Up Stairs and Surprises Down

I didn’t get way up stairs today, so I don’t know if there was a third pen show, but the two I visited were pretty good, mostly thanks to a surprise.

Today I visited the 8th Annual World Fountain Pen Exhibition at Maruzen Books down in Tokyo. Because it was a Friday, I wasn’t expecting much. As always, the things I most wanted to see were all huddled into a tiny space next to the exit at one end of the ground floor.

I was especially pleased to see Euro-Box on hand as it was fun to look over the large selection of vintage pens. A Nakaya staffer was there tuning and fixing pens as were staff from Ohashido and Eboya.

Eizo Fujii from Euro-Box (left) watches over four displays full of vintage pens. The pen maker from Ohashido consults with a client at the back, near the exit.

The pen master from Ohashido works on a client’s pen.

The pen mistress from Nakaya (I forgot her name and she usually keeps it secret anyway by hiding her name tag) checks the smoothness of a nib at the Nakaya tables. (Note: She doesn’t like pictures, so I’m only running this because you can’t see her face clearly.)

I drooled over a couple pens but managed to walk away with my finances intact. Mostly.

Some of the Ohasahido pens. That orange and black pen second from the left is calling me. My wallet is sending a different message. (I also like the three to the right.)

Although it wasn’t that busy, there was still a lot of energy on the ground floor. However, because there wasn’t much to see other than temptation and temporary joy followed by fits of remorse, I headed downstairs into the mausoleum where it was dark and silent.

However, as soon as I arrived in the mausoleum, I saw a large collection of store exclusive inks. I quickly bought one of each. This was a big surprise as 1) I expected any ink they had to have sold out the first day and 2) they were older versions in the old style bottles. I quickly bought one of each, gambling I’d be able to sell them.

Because of that find, I was in a much better mood in the mausoleum. I looked around at a few of the displays and talked to the LAMY rep about the cap on my LAMY 2000. (He says it’s fine; I says it’s barely fine.) I saw the anniversary edition LAMY 2000 black amber, which is neither black nor amber, but is cooler looking than I expected it be.

I also found my scribblings from last  year in a sample notebook in the darkest corner of the mausoleum. Something about that struck me as funny and I left in a good mood.

I was in such a good mood that I completely forgot to check out what events were happening on the third floor.

I still think it would be cool if they squeezed a nibmeister in next to the Nakaya or Ohashido tables. It would also be nice if they allowed pictures in the mausoleum.

But I left in a good mood, so none of that bothered me much this year.



Knives and Notebooks and Information

I went to Tokyo to look at knives, but ended up with notebooks. In other words, it was a typical trip to Tokyo for me.

The morning started with the Ginza Blade Show which is relatively small, but was crowded and hot. Fortunately for my pocketbook, there wasn’t anything there I couldn’t live without and after taking some video and a few pictures, I ran away.

The next stop was ItoYa which, to my mind, isn’t as cool as it used to be, but is always worth at least a short trip.

That was followed by the search for a pen shop I hadn’t been to before. I found it surprisingly quickly. Unfortunately, it decided to close today so all I could do was stare longingly at the locked door.

After that, I made an excursion to Maruzen to hunt for ink and pens. The pen was sold out, as were the flavors of ink I was looking for.

From there I went down to the Mitsukoshi main store to verify the dates for their annual fountain pen festival. (March 15-20th, if anyone happens to be in town.) The clerks were friendly and quickly gave me the information. The Mitsukoshi stationery section is small but in a nice location near Mitsukoshi’s famous atrium. It also has three different sets of modern pens available to try. I played the Platinum nibs and the Pilot nibs and convinced myself NOT to buy a Falcon nib for one of my pens. Before I changed my mind, I wandered over to the notebook section.

Unfortunately, although it is small, the stationery section had some notebooks I’ve been looking for. I now own them, which partly breaks one of my Pen and Stationery resolutions as I forgot to do push-ups in the store before I bought them.

After that, I came home. All in all, for trip to Tokyo, it wasn’t that hard on my wallet. I’ll be back down there in two weeks, though, for the Tokyo Folding Knife Show.