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Excellence in Usability – Stationery Made in Japan


The FriXion pen uses ink which transforms into a colorless, transparent state with the application of frictional heat using the rubber. (Photo courtesy of PILOT Corporation)

Japan is a world leader in the sphere of "manufacturing" of such products as cars and electrical appliances. This solid technological capability has been thoroughly incorporated even into stationery which we casually pick up every day. Writing instruments made in Japan are attractive, and it’s easy to buy too many, but their merit does not end with their excellent design. Aiming for the ultimate comfort in usability, they continue to evolve daily.

“Erasable” Ballpoint Pens


The Jet Stream ballpoint pen having the special characteristic of a writing performance similar to that of a water-based pen. (Photo courtesy of MITSUBISHI PENCIL CO., LTD.)

The wish of one manufacturer to create an oil-based ballpoint pen, such as those widespread in offices, with as smooth a writing performance as water-based pens, materialized into the "Jet Stream". A feeling of gliding across the paper has been made a reality and the product has been highly appraised worldwide. Female users who use a light writing pressure tended to shy away from oil-based ballpoint pens, with their general sticky consistency, but the frictional resistance of the ink contained in the Jet Stream is about half that of conventional products. To prevent the low-viscosity ink leaking from the tip of the pen, a system has been introduced to hold down the ball at the tip of the pen to an appropriate degree, by means of a built-in spring known as a "spring chip".

On a slightly different note, the assumption that letters written with a ballpoint pen cannot be erased, has been overturned by the "FriXion" series. Its distinctive characteristic is its ability to “hide” letters by rubbing them with the dedicated rubber attached to the end of the pen opposite the tip, just like letters written in pencil are erased with an eraser. The secret of these "erasable" pens is the effect of the unique ink which is transformed into a colorless state by the frictional heat generated by rubbing. As long as the temperature remains within the range of minus 10℃ to 65℃, the mistake, once it is made colorless, will remain colorless, giving you peace of mind.

A Mechanical Pencil with a Rotating Lead


Mechanical pencils are convenient for everyday use but their tendency to produce variations in letter thickness as the lead wears down slantingly, and the ease with which the lead breaks can cause dissatisfaction. This latent need of users was pursued and developed into the "Kuru Toga". It has a mechanism in which three gears installed within the pen, engage and shift the lead by 9 degrees every time the tip of the lead is pressed and released. Because the tip of the lead is conical at all times, it is able to withstand even strong pen pressure.


The "Kuru Toga pencil" , with a reputation of being easy to write with and difficult to break. (Photo courtesy of MITSUBISHI PENCIL CO., LTD.)

Even in the field of fountain pens where European products hold "supremacy", there is a Japanese product which continues to receive worldwide appraisal. This is “Elabo”, known abroad under the product name “Namiki Falcon”. Elabo's most outstanding characteristic is its uniquely shaped nib. The shape gently slopes upward from midway, giving rise to a resilience and moderate flexibility which can withstand strong pen pressure. This high quality pen enables the writer to vary the width of letters with only a light touch and to express subtle nuances, and has continued to attract fountain pen fans over the 30 years from its launch.

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The masterpiece "Elabo" fountain pen, made in Japan. (Photo courtescy of PILOT Corporation) The nib of an "Elabo", with superior resilient properties and the ability to adapt to any writing pressure. Due to the similarity between its shape and a falcon's face, it was sold abroad under the name of "Falcon" until three years ago. (Photo courtesy of PILOT Corporation)

For use with smartphones

A standard learning tool commonly used in Japan to aid in memorizing important parts of a text is the "Concealing Memorization Sheet". This combines a semi-transparent sheet with a special marker. Parts of a text are highlighted with the special marker and when the semi-transparent sheet is placed over the text, the highlighted parts become invisible. The “AnkiSnap” system has been developed by Japanese stationery manufacturers so that students can easily study with their smart phones using this method.

Simply highlight the sections of text you wish to remember using a dedicated "AnkiSnap" marker pen, take a photograph using a dedicated application, and import it into your smartphone. By tapping on the screen displayed on the smartphone, the highlighted areas can be revealed or hidden. It is also possible to share the text made for memorization with friends. As such, rote learning can be performed easily and anywhere without carrying bulky texts around.

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Learning marker pens "AnkiSnap" used in combination with a smartphone to highlight words you wish to memorize. (Photo courtesy of Pentel Co.,Ltd.) Areas highlighted with "AnkiSnap" turn black when imported using a dedicated smartphone application. The hidden letters appear if tapped. (Photo courtesy of Pentel Co., Ltd.)

(March 2014)

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