[From May Issue 2012]
The Japanese fiscal year begins in April. Many people will be purchasing the clothes, bags, and shoes they’ll need for work or study. Stationery is also something that sells well during this time of year. Stationery made by Japanese companies is said to be of high quality and comes in many varieties. Japan is a world leader especially when it comes to writing materials, and products have been developed here that make writing easier.
Pentel was the first company to develop the fine 0.5 millimeter mechanical pencil lead, whereas PILOT invented a pencil holder that puts less stress on the writing hand. Mitsubishi Pencil came up with a mechanism to keep the mechanical pencil lead sharp at all times. There are even pens which use an ingenious kind of ink that can be erased. Since each brand of stationery sells writing instruments in a wide variety of colors and gradations of thickness, the stationery section in stores is a vibrant sight, packed with countless products.
Before buying, customers carefully check the smoothness of use and overall performance of writing tools. Since Japan has a history of calligraphy, people are fussy about their pens and demand instruments that can write beautifully. High performance writing materials are in demand because to write intricate Japanese characters, the writer needs to be able to produce tome (stops), hane (flicks at the end of a stroke) and harai (sweeping strokes). Most customers test a product even when they purchase a cheap pen. That is why stationery departments provide scribbling paper.
The abundance in variety of stationery supplies is due to the Japanese character trait of anticipating the desires of others and acting accordingly. Erasers are one example of this. It’s not unusual for domestically made erasers to be of extremely high quality with an erasure rate (ratio of pencil line erased) of over 95%, but in spite of this, new products are being launched one after another. This is because manufacturers closely follow consumer demand.
One manufacturer realized that many adults and high school students used erasers while holding pencils in their hand. So they then developed a long eraser that people can hold together with a pencil. In response to those who disliked the black residue left by erasers, a manufacturer created a black eraser to make the residue less noticeable. One manufacturer removed the sharp edges of an eraser holder after receiving complaints that its sharp edges cut into the eraser.
For users that are bothered by residue, there are erasers that produce less residue. In order to be able to neatly erase one letter at a time, there is an eraser specially constructed so that it always has a sharp edge. When one manufacturer makes a good product, other manufacturers tend to follow suit with a similar product.
Competition between companies helps create high quality products; this can be seen in the case of correction tape. Unlike correction fluid, it’s possible to write on correction tape immediately after application and this is why many manufacturers develop and sell correction tape. Each manufacturer is pursuing similar goals of creating an easy to handle, smooth rolling tape holder that contains plenty of tape. For this reason successive products are introduced onto the market, such as tape cases that discharge tape when pushed or pulled and compact cartridges that can hold a large amount of tape.
Other manufacturers strive to bring out unique kinds of correction tape, such as colorful and fashionable correction tape holders that resemble jewels or birds. These are Pentel’s “JEWELISH” and Midori’s “Swingbird.” On the other hand, there are also manufacturers that set their sights on developing high performance correction tape. One example is PLUS Stationery, the creators of the “non-transparent correction tape” which prevents erased sentences from being seen even on the reverse side of the paper. Since there are so many types of correction tape, some customers are completely confused when they go to purchase replacements.
Notebooks and other paper products are also high quality. For example, Maruman’s “Kakiyasui (easy to write) Loose Leaf;” just as the product’s name suggests, it was created with the goal in mind of making writing easier. The loose leaf paper is made so that it can be written on neatly with pens, pencils, markers and other writing tools. Furthermore products come in a variety of sizes and types of ruled lines.
One characteristic of stationery made in Japan is its compactness. Midori’s CL compact stapler has a length of a mere 66 millimeters. Carl’s hole punch has a height of approximately five centimeters, but when the handle is locked, the height is only approximately three centimeters. In Japan, where homes and offices tend to be smaller, compact products that take up less space are appreciated. Also, people who carry around stationery for work tend to prefer smaller items.
In Japan, there is also a lot of stationery that is cute and fashionable. For example, the pop-inspired glitter ink of Sakura Color Products’s Ballsign Pen made the product a hit with teenage girls. Midori’s adorable animal-shaped paperclips are also popular. “Mecurikko” rubber finger tips (for sorting through paper) by Plus are popular with women who are into nail art, as they can be used by ladies with long fingernails and come in fashionable colors.
“Japanese stationery manufacturers are good at creating petite, detailed, cute items,” says YAMADA Maiko, a PR representative for specialized stationery store GINZA itoya. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Japanese will only buy stationery made in Japan. If it’s to their taste, they will purchase stationery from other countries. Since customers are enthusiastic about stationery, both stationery manufacturers and stationery stores do their best to meet their needs.”
The existence of customizable stationery is further proof of the Japanese love of stationery. Any stationery store will sell items that can be customized and there are also books and magazines that demonstrate how to customize stationery. PILOT’s HI-TEC-C coleto is a range of ballpoint pen holders and cartridges, sold separately, customers can match their favorite holder with their favorite color ink. In this way, people can get their hands on stationery that matches their needs and preferences with the minimum of hassle.
Recently, electronic stationery such as King Jim’s pomera (a digital memo pad) and Pentel’s airpen (which transforms written brushstrokes into digital data) are also selling well. Memo pads that can archive smartphone picture data are also popular. On the other hand, interest in penmanship is enjoying a renaissance and as a result, there has been in increase in the numbers of people who buy high-end stationery and notebooks. Even in this information technology era, the Japanese people’s love of stationery is still going strong.
Text: SAZAKI Ryo