About 14-15 months ago, I started to become fascinated with fountain pens. Before, as an IT guy almost all of my life, I never paid any attention to writing instruments other than their practicality and reliability. Just like any other reasonably sane people, I just toss out a ballpoint that ran out of ink without even a second thought. And my handwriting reflects my attitude. Mostly readable, but bereft of any sort of finesse or expressions.

One year

… of using, restoring, and collecting fountain pens have changed my attitude towards appreciating handwritten scripts, and have given me a new way to relax but still engaging my mind.

While I have quite a few fountain pens that I would call each “my favorite”, there is one in particular that captivated me in a different way than others. It is a high-end (but not the highest-end) fountain pen made in Japan that seems to embody the concept of going through numerous meticulously executed steps to capture the essence of … simplicity.

One finish

While Nakaya fountain pens are available in other finish such as the ones with Maki-e paintings on it. I have always been smitten by this one finish: The Heki-Tamenuri Urushi.

The what?

Let’s start from the last word:

“Urushi” is one type of lacquer from tree sap whose application techniques was refined and preserved for thousands of years in Japan and China. It is characterized by hard, smooth, glazed finish achieved through the process of curing, unlike ceramic, which uses heating, or enamel with powdered glass fusing.

The final finish on this pen is a product of multiple layers of urushi applied on top of each other (each has to cure for at least 24 hours). And by ‘multiple’ we are talking about 50 to 100, not 5. According to Nibs.com, each fountain pen takes at least 3-months to finish.

“Tamenuri” is a technique where colored urushi (tree-sap + natural pigments) layers are covered with the more translucent ones (seen in the photo as the delicious brown). The result is a subtle color showing through the finish taking advantage of the natural effect of the upper layers gradually becoming transparent, so the color beneath it will become more visible over time.

“Heki” is the green color with the bluish tinge on it. This is the hue of the colored urushi for this particular pen, which will become more distinct as the top urushi layers become more transparent. I love this color, it reminded me of those elaborate Japanese Macha (green tea) ceremony equipment set. As a matter of options, other colors are also available such as the “Aka” (red), “Shiro” (white), “Kuro” (black), “Ao” (blue) and maybe others.

One presentation

When it comes to presentation, this pen is packaged in such a way that there will be no mistake as to where it came from, and how much thoughts, design and efforts went into it.  The pen came in a balsa-wood box which is perfectly trimmed, with no corners askew.

Opening the box lid reveals a white satin padding on the lid, and a red velvet “bed” on the bottom part. But there is no pen yet, instead, a dark blue ‘kimono’ pen-sleeve under a red band that secures it, and a pack of Platinum ink cartridges.

Opening the kimono ties would then allow you to take the pen out of the sleeve — whose inside is green to match the “Heki” hue — and into your hand. The first time I saw the pen, I was mesmerized. Everything that I read about and the pictures and videos I’ve seen about this pen is now materialized in my own hands. My mouth must have hung open for a moment.

The next morning, I caught a glimpse of the open box with the kimono gold threads catching the morning sunlight… yeah, exquisite. Very.

One writing instrument

The beauty of collecting fountain pens is that it’s never just a collection. A fountain pen is an instrument, it’s a tool for expressing thoughts. And with this Nakaya’s Naka-Ai model, it’s no exception. The Naka-Ai is not a small pen. Capped, it’s exactly 6 inches from the top peak to the bottom one.

Originally I was eyeing the Piccolo or the Portable model, but the tapered end and the two conical ends of the Naka-Ai grew on me. This model actually have more of the “heki” color to show through as “rings” on the body.

Another feature that I like about this pen is the clip. Almost all Nakaya models are available in either the “Cigar” style without a clip, or the “Writer” version such as this pen.  I rarely like a pen that does not have a clip. So I’m happy to find out that this pen is the one with the clip

The Nakata family is also the one behind the Platinum fountain pen brand, one of the Big Three in Japan, Platinum — as far as my research go — produce their own nibs and this pen comes with a big 14K nib. The nib is a “Fine Flexible” as indicated by the following kanji character imprinted on the nib itself:nakaya fine flexible

Our fountain pen was selected as one of the gifts presented by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the G7 leaders and heads of countries and organizations participating in the outreach meeting during the G7 Ise-Shima Summit held on May 26-27, 2016.
– Platinum Fountain Pen Co.

One “Writing With Expression”

The term “Writing with expression” stuck in my mind when I first heard it on a youtube video about fountain pen masters in Japan. The concept of writing for the sake of expressing one’s thoughts sounds just what the doctor would order in this ever-increasingly-busy lifestyle.  And I think that is about the most perfect job for a: Fountain Pen.

When I purchased this pen, I have no idea what to expect from a huge 14K nib that says Fine Flexible. I have plenty of experience with vintage 14K nibs from the ones that are rigid to really flexible, so I am eager to find out.

About the writing sample below: First of all, forgive me for the horrible kanji. My parents did their best to get me to learn my Chinese characters when I was young, but now you see that I haven’t been paying enough attention.

Secondly, the nib is really… I mean really fine.  As for flexible? Well, it’s flexible enough to go from XF to M (in vintage nib size parlance), maybe to B if we’re being generous. Definitely enough to give out some line variation, but it’s probably not fair to compare it to let’s say an Ingersoll nib.

Having said that, it is a good writing experience. I like how the pen sits in my hand and because it was made from ebonite, the pen size does not translate into fatigue-inducing weight.

Now sketching, which is a big part of why I enjoy fountain pens. The nib is very consistent in laying down fine lines. That’s what sketchers (at least those who sketch like I do) look for. A consistent, reliable lines that does not hamper the thought flow when sketching.

I can’t imagine bringing this pen outside to sketch in the “wild” though. I’d be too stressed out over the pen more than anything else :)

So is it a good sketching pen? Yes. Will I use it outside? Oh, No. No way.

One Last Thought

… or three.

Is the pen worth the asking price? My answer is yes, primarily because I am now ready for such a pen. A year ago, I’d be horrified to learn that one can use let alone enjoy such an expensive writing instrument.

Would I recommend it? Definitely. But as I said, all the reading and the research I did prior to buying this pen prepare me to appreciate this pen for what it is. Yes, it is a writing instrument, but it’s main character is to symbolize simplicity.  Without sufficient appreciation to what this pen stands for, you will not be enjoying it very much. It would just be another pen.

How’s the journey? I titled this writing “The Road to a Nakaya” which to me befit my whole thinking process regarding this pen.

It is a road because I saved my way to buying this pen. This pen is not the result of an impulsive buy, but it serves to direct my efforts through out the year.

A “grail” pen, then? No, not to me. But it is one of the milestones in my fountain pen journey.

This is not a pen that I’ll be taking to work or to meetings. This is a pen to use when I want to write something or sketch something that is in my mind and heart. And to me at least, anything that engages the mind and the heart, is like going on a road trip, which requires a good vehicle, of which this is one.

Written by will