Stationery is one of those life essentials. Even with the growth of digital this and AI that, we use some form of it everyday. Japan is known in the stationery world for its top quality products. Peek into anyone’s pencil case and you’ll see at least one, more often two, Made in Japan pencils.
What makes the difference to a stationery addict like myself, though, is not just the great quality, but the range. Gone are the days where we only have a sad selection of black, blue, and red ballpoint pens to choose from (I’m from Scotland and this was always the case when I was growing up). Now you can walk into stationery mecca Loft and be overwhelmed with a range that will make you wonder why you don’t have at least three different shades of purple pens in your personal collection.
Since visiting Japan for the first time in 2008 and being introduced to this enormous range, I’ve always chased colored inks, orange and light grey being my personal favorites. There is no better place to fuel this obsession than a trip to the many stationery stores dotted around Tokyo. Whether you’re visiting or living here, here are my top Japanese stationery products for addicts and amateurs alike.
As an (aforementioned) amateur enthusiast of fountain pens and inks, the Ink Stand (next door to the beautiful custom-notebook store, Kakimori) closed down for a few months last year due to supply issues. I was gutted. Not for long, though, they’ve re-opened and ready for you to pop in and create your own custom-colored ink! Not only can you customize the color, but you can also choose the texture, e.g. pearl, glittery, shiny. How cool is that? If you’re having an in-store crisis because you’re not sure where to start (cough, cough, not me…) the lovely staff will be more than happy to help you. Result: a glossy coral! http://inkstand.jp
SARASA gel pens by Zebra
Currently Japan’s number one best selling gel pen! They come in a whopping range of 46 colors (and that doesn’t even include their pastel and luminous range) and in four different sizes, 0.3mm, 0.5mm, 0.7mm, and 1.0mm (I prefer a thicker nib for writing in English and a thinner one for Japanese). These pens flow smoothly and dry pretty quickly. A bargain starting from only ¥90 a pen! Available from pretty much any stationery store in Tokyo, but for a big range of colors try Loft or Tokyu Hands.
Pilot juice up pens
So juicy! Highly saturated ink with an intense color payoff. They also come in a range of beautiful pastel and metallic colors (6 of each in the range). You will pay more for these pens, but the quality, longevity, and color intensity is worth it. The pastel and metallic juice up pens are perfect for writing on black or colored paper—excellent for scrapbooking. I find that the best selection of these pens can be found in Tokyu Hands.
Speaking of paper, as a side note, one place that I feel is often overlooked, is Sekaido. The Shinjuku branch has 6 floors of stationery and art supplies. Buy your colored papers and sketchpads from here, they have the best selection and price range. The ground floor has a great stationery section, and the third floor is where you will find a huge selection of calligraphy supplies including brush pens in every color imaginable—Sekaido is the only place in Tokyo where I have found the Tombow dual brush pens popular with pretty much every calligrapher and brush-letterer on Instagram!
Uni Mitsubishi Vermilion and Prussian Blue Pencil
Not just red and blue. The names of these colors conjures up images of art from the Edo period and in particular, the pigments used in ukiyo-e master Hokusai’s famous 36 views of Mount Fuji series. From back in the day, this shade of red has been used for ‘hanko’ (personal seal or stamp). It’s a particularly nostalgic Japanese stationery piece. The lead is quite soft, so it’s perfect for marking in a book, or for highlighting and editing copy. This is a cheap and simple product (only ¥60!) that makes for a lovely addition to your pencil pot.
This is by far my favorite stationery item that feeds my obsession for geometric patterns. I’m often asked, what do you do with it? Well, initially, nothing. I built up a collection that brightened up an otherwise dull looking desk. But recently I’ve been using it to decorate and seal up My Bungu Boxes, which I’m going to have to stop doing as subscriber numbers are growing and the washi tape collection is not! You can also use it to stick photos up on your wall if your landlord doesn’t allow you to pin things (be careful though, buy the good stuff by MT, maste, or Mind Wave from Loft or Tokyu Hands, not the rolls from the 100-yen shop which will leave a mark), and I noticed that a lot of Instagrammers use washi tape in abundance to decorate their bullet journals and planners!
I have so much more that I could write about, but for now, I hope this small selection gets you started. If you don’t live in Japan but want to get your hands on a great selection of Japanese stationery products subscribe to My Bungu Box. Every three months you will receive a box featuring a Japan-related artist or designer and a surprise selection of personal recommended stationery products from Japan! A special offer just for cheapos—receive 10% off your first box using the code TC10 at the checkout.
Are you as addicted to stationery as me? Tell me in the comments below what your top product is!
For more Tokyo stationery shops, see our guide here.