Stationery, in general, is popular in Japan and it’s not strange to see specialty shops popping up in the nation’s capital. Some focus on the creative or paper side of stationery while others are more interested in the writing instruments. They often regard fountain pens as a luxury item, but many brands have lower priced options for those just starting out and aren’t sure if they’ll enjoy using them.
Only a small group of people think of fountain pens when they go to Japan, but a few large brands call this Far East country home. People with small handwriting tend to favour the Japanese nibs over their Western counterparts, since they’re slimmer, but their timeless designs and innovation is also worth mentioning.
If you’re going to Japan and are curious about fountain pens, check out one of the shops mentioned below to try them. Most of the shops mentioned also carry imported brands, but it’s the Japanese brands that I want to highlight here.
Note: All the prices listed on the tags of items are without sales tax (10%).
Japan has many tax-free shopping options. Big stores might even have a dedicated place where you can get the tax back. Bring your passport and the receipt of your purchases to the desk on the same day as you do your shopping. Most tax-free counters have a minimum you have to purchase if you want to get tax back. Check the rules before you shop accordingly to get the most out of it.
Japanese fountain pen brands
The biggest difference between Eastern and Western nibs is the width. A fine nib from Japan might be the same width as an extra fine nib from Germany. Eastern nibs are usually slimmer because it’s easier to write their script with.
Below, I’ll name the big three brands in Japan. There are smaller brands and even individual pen makers, but I don’t know many of them.
Pilot is one of the largest Japanese fountain pen brands. They celebrated their 100th anniversary last year by releasing the amazing $48,000 set. This set showcases what they’re capable of and what they represent. Traditional artistry and exceptional quality.
I’d recommend a Pilot Kakuno for the beginner and the upside of buying one in Japan, is that you can buy special editions. I know they have Kakunos with characters like Hello Kitty on them.
Platinum is celebrating their 100th anniversary this year and is smaller than Pilot or Sailor, but still a big player. The low budget options are popular with beginning fountain pen users and even the ones who have used them years.
If you’re just getting into fountain pens, check out the Preppy or Plaisir. The Platinum Preppy is less than 500 yen and the Plaisir less than 2000.
Sailor is well known for their specialty nibs. Some regard their gold nibs as one of the best. Their higher end pens have nib options like the naginata togi, a nib grind with a thicker and thinner side which gives a nice line variation when writing. These nibs are all gold nibs and much pricier than the regular grinds.
Sailor also has a line of gorgeous maki-e pens, an art-form more than a thousand years old. These pens are works of art and limited so be prepared to pay a hefty sum for these. But you’ll have a pen that everyone wants to look at.
The entry model pens by Sailor aren’t as cheap as the Platinum preppy, but they’re in the same price range as the Pilot Kakuno and the Platinum Plaisir. It’s hard to say which of these pens is the best as it’s usually down to personal preference. I do suggest that you buy a converter with any of these (except the Preppy, which you can convert to an eyedropper pen). The Japanese models might not all accept international cartridges, so buying a converter with your pen is the safest bet.
The Pilot Iroshizuku ink is one you should buy when you’re in Japan. It’s widely available in Tokyo, sometimes even in stores not specialized in pens, but it’s so much cheaper to buy it there. The prices are half of what I would pay if I’d buy a bottle at my local pen shop.
Sailor is known for their collaborations with shops to create their own line of inks. Not all the inks have special properties like shading, sheen or shimmer, but finding the perfect colour is also worth something. Finding all of the Sailor exclusives can be time consuming. Reddit and the Fountain Pen Network are another great source of information in this. If I know a shop has exclusive inks, I’ll list them below. Note that most of the sites are in Japanese, but you can use the ‘Google Translate’-function to navigate the site and find basic information like brand names, prices and availability.
Itoya is a large store with a whole floor dedicated to fountain pens. Their service standards are high and the shop assistants allow you to try any pen without a commitment to purchase. Although I highly doubt that, you’ll leave the store buying nothing.
This is a wonderful experience to see so many pens in one place and have the opportunity to test them. If you’re a beginner and are looking into the more expensive pens, this might be the place to see which nib you like best.
Itoya also has the full selection of Sailor Kobe Inks. They only allow two bottles per person to avoid hoarding, but it’s a nice chance to get more exclusive inks for a lower price (compared to buying them outside of Japan).
Bungubox is a small shop away from the popular shopping streets. Owner Kaoru customizes pens with Japanese icons, like koi fish or mount Fuji. These pens are unique. Kaoru’s English is limited, but she’s always doing her best to provide excellent service to her customers.
Bungubox has its own line of inks made in collaboration with Sailor. The special bottles used for the ‘Ink Tells More’ line are designed by Kaoru herself and are inspired by her love of fashion. The colours of the ‘Ink Tells More’ are all vibrant. For more subdued colours, check out the Tokyo Subway line. Check out the selection of exclusive inks here.
Update: Bungubox now has an English site for international customers. Check it out here.
Look at these gorgeous hand painted TWSBIs!
A small store on the second floor in the Shinjuku skyscraper district. It’s close to Shinjuku Station and sells both new and secondhand pens.
Kingdom Note has their own line of Sailor inks. Check out this link to see which Sailor inks they have available now. The site is in Japanese, but you can see the prices and colours.
Eurobox is a small shop in Ginza. Don’t look for a sign and window on the ground floor. It’s hidden on the fourth floor inside a larger building, and the shop itself is barely large enough to fit ten people. The owner speaks conversational English and will do anything to help you out. He has a nice selection of new and used pens. There’s a chance to find a hidden gem you won’t find somewhere else soon. You can find them here: https://goo.gl/maps/3kBpxdDqzQk.
Inkstand is a shop specialized in fountain pen ink and they offer a service to create your custom colour. It’s pricey at 2700 yen for 33 ml. It’s up to you to decide if it’s worth it. You have to make a reservation if you want to create your own colour. If you just want a custom colour, but allow them to mix it, you don’t have to make a reservation, but spots are limited. Check out their site for more information.
There are ink mixing sets available to mix inks at home and for the amount of ink you’ll get, it’s probably cheaper. But the cost up front is much higher (the Pineider Ink Alchemy set is 189 euro).
Don’t forget to check out their sister store, Kakimori, where you can make your own notebook with fountain pen friendly paper. I wrote about it in my previous post about shopping stationery in Tokyo.
I discovered this pen shop through Instagram where the owner posts incredibly cute pictures of their dog Mont-chan balancing pens on her nose. The shop is located in Kanda, the area with about 200 second-hand bookstores. It’s a small store, so don’t expect to find a wide selection, but seeing Mont-chan will boost your spirits. You can find the shop here: https://goo.gl/maps/8RVqTTwuP192.
Follow their Instagram for more dog and pen pictures.
Other places to shop
Maruzen and Kinokuniya are large bookstores that also carry fountain pens. Their selection might be limited and more generic than specialized pen shops. Maruzen’s stationery department is in the basement.
Large department stores like Isetan and Mitsukoshi also carry fountain pens. Their selection won’t be as wide as Itoya, but their products might be different because of their shop-in-shop concept. T-site in Ginza (https://goo.gl/maps/ZdrgoRNMjvP2) has exclusive line of inks for example, and there were TAG inks spotted at Mitsukoshi. It might be worth checking out if you’re in the neighbourhood.
Ameyoko is a market beneath the train tracks near Ueno station. It’s filled with small shops and street food. Some of these sell fountain pens with a 30% or 40% discount. They might be a bit hard to find, but they’re there. Combine your pen shopping with trying excellent Chinese food, Korean cheese dogs (deep fried cheese on a stick) or one of the best takoyaki shops in Tokyo.
This is a popular place for both tourists and locals, so if you want to avoid the crowds, go when the shops are opening up (around 10 in the morning).
Have you been to another pen shop in Tokyo which isn’t it on the list? Let me know and I’ll add it to the list!