Pencil, Paper and Obsessive Behavior
April 17, 2015
Until I joined Sumitomo Bank and was immersed in Japanese educational and business culture, I felt special and unique. I knew the best grade of paper to use with a fountain pen; I used gel ink was while my peers were using metal ball points; I loved 0.5 mm pen nibs and only imagined and dreamed the joys of a .38 mm or, even, a .28 mm nib. I quickly discovered I was outclassed by my new Japanese colleagues.
The logographic nature of the Japanese written language has created a nation of obsessive compulsive personalities. Obsessed with the tools and the media of writing. Compulsive about the technique and the work product! I was in heaven among like minded individuals. Unfortunately, English is an inferior medium for communicating information concisely and clearly (on paper). My Japanese colleagues could condense an immense amount of information on a single 8×10 sheet of paper. Still, I was personally challenged to adapt.
On a trip to Tokyo, a friend introduced me to Ito-ya. “Here, you can find the tools Ginn-san.” Nirvana! Itoya is not a stationary store, it is the source of all things ink upon paper. Pilot pens became pedestrian. Uni “Style Fit” 28mm pens, despite their ink flow problems, became necessities. My notebooks? Only Mnemosyne would do.
On my trips to Tokyo, I arranged to arrive Saturday evenings. My first stop on Sunday morning (after the Citibank ATM), at opening time, was Ito-ya on Ginza. I was compelled to stock up on “good stuff.” Before leaving, my last walk to my hotel always included a stop at Itoya in Marunouchi to be sure there was nothing I missed.
In retirement, my desk remains a tribute to Ito-ya; my cabinets a storehouse of former Ito-ya inventory.
Puzzling, however, was that I never became enamored by the pencil. My colleagues and friends used pencils regularly and almost exclusively favored the mechanical 0.5mm Pentel mechanical variety. Perhaps the mechanical nature is how I missed the joy of pencils and their sharpeners. As a lover of all things idiosyncratic, I want to share this recent piece on the joy of a pencil by a former New Yorker Editor. She did not miss the joy of the pencil.