We all use them, we all need them, everyone has a use for it whether it’s to write a card for your niece’s birthday or to sign a multi-million dollar contract, that’s right folks, we are talking pens. Of all kinds, shapes, and grip. They have been there in the best of times and the worst of times, supporting you in times of love and divorce. Perhaps you have been called a clicker, perhaps a spinner. These writing tools make the world go round in mysterious ways and there are no better ones out there than those made by a nation of stationery fanatics, Japan.
Before we get too wild in the world of Japanese stationery items, we need to set some buying guidelines. There are tons of factors that determine the pen to fit your needs. Depending on the occasion the right one can send your message to soaring heights, on the other hand, the wrong one can send that love letter you have been gushing your heart over straight to the garbage.
There are four types that we’ll cover: gel, erasable, brush, and fountain. Each of these has their own characteristics and qualities which can completely transform your message in their own way. First you need to determine what you intend to accomplish with your new writing tool. Each type has their own voice and it is your job to find out what voice best fits what you want to say with yours.
Once you decide on the type, there are further factors which are as essential to consider. These are the nib, the grip, and the weight.
When it comes to any writing utensil, the nib is the most important factor which determines a winner from a loser. Everyone who goes to a stationery store will test the nib by writing their favorite obscenity in the sample sticky pad. The nib directly affects the shape of the stroke and how it glides across the page. If the most expensive pen in the world does not have an amazing feeling nib, that still makes it a loser. We won’t go over the nib types here, but make sure to test the nib by jotting down a few of your favorite words.
Next up is the grip. People have different hands and fingers which find their way into little and big places throughout the world. Even when you find one with a great nib, if it doesn’t have a grip that feels good when you hold it soft, tight, or sensually, then it will be sad and unused. When you find yourself a prospective pen to buy, make sure to try holding it in many different ways. With the wrong grip, you could experience all kinds of hardships including: finger chafing, blisters, and finger aches.
The three most common ways to hold a pen can be summarized in the below graphic:
You may have noticed the hand in the image is not holding a pen, but a surgeon’s scalpel. That is no accident, it just shows that a writing tool should be considered as heavily as a surgeon would a scalpel to save another human being’s life. Pens hold the power to shape the world which means you also hold the power to shape the world with your new Japanese pen.
Lastly, the third factor to consider once you've found one with an acceptable nib and grip, is the weight. A heavy weight stabilizes your stroke and can be useful when writing detailed, deliberate messages but can cause hand cramps which make it unenjoyable for long sessions. A lighter one can make your ideas fly from your hand and feel more comfortable in 90 minute plus writing sessions but can also create a letter that looks like it has been written by a busy doctor. Weight also directly affects the balance of it. The weight can be different between the nib and the butt, depending on your needs this balance will affect your ability with the pen. If you are a spinner, you want an equally balanced weight from nib to butt, whereas one with a weighted nib side can help you write cleaner. In the end you need to consider how the weight will feel when you use it.
There are other factors which may also be important in your stationery hunting process, such as available colors, whether it stores multiple, or the nib is capped, retractable or twisty. These are more personal and you should find the pen which has the features you like.
Top Japanese Gel Pens
The first pen in our lineup is the Pilot G2 Premium Retractable Fine Point. Just like marijuana, this is the gateway drug to the world of pens with a smooth stroke. This was one of the first which made me appreciate smooth writing and supported me throughout my middle school english essays. The nib has a tendency to bleed with excessive pressure and the grip can eventually peel with heavy-use, but as a standard reliable pen, this is a great option. Reliable and classic.
The Sakura Pigma Micron Blister Card Ink Pen. For the general layman this can be a difficult weapon to wield the full potential of with its very fine strokes and rigid body. However, in the right hands this makes it the perfect pen for artistic types. The fine-point nib guarantees precision and detailed strokes when you want to create an acid-induced abstract painting or detailed schematic. It's lacking in its grip and the smooth plastic casing can make it slippery for especially sweaty hands. One feature I particularly like is how it doubles as a paperclip with the cap’s strong metal clip that tightly keeps your documents securely fastened together. This is the architect’s choice.
The Muji Gel Ink Ball Point Pen was created by Muji which also sells a multitude of household and consumer goods. This product doesn’t try to be anything more than it is, no games or tricks just straight talk from stroke-to-stroke. Despite its unadorned appearance, the quality is in the details. It wields a very nice and fine stroke. It’s nib comes to a fine point and the body is rather wide which feels rather nice in your hand. The item is entirely plastic, but the body has a slightly rough texture which makes it feel solid in your grip. A great ball point choice for the minimalists out there.
As said in the name, the Pilot Hi-Tec-C Gel Ink Pen, Hyper Fine Point is the fine point pennist’s wet dream. Simply said, this writing tool is super fine. The nib glides smoothly which makes it great for note-taking, and the fineness makes it a prime tool for doodling or note-taking. If you want to cram 100 lines of calculus notes in a quarter of an A4 sized notebook paper, this is the pen to do it. The pen can be slippery if you have sweaty hands but the encasing comes to a ribbed point which provides some grip. If you want to take the finest quality notes this is the scholar's choice for you.
Top Japanese Erasable Pens
Personally, the PILOT FriXion Clicker Erasable Pen was my entry into the world of Japanese pens. Compared to all the other ones I’ve used up till then, the level of technical design just did not compare to the FriXion. This product features a thick, plastic, slider which retracts the nib. The highlight of this is the satisfying *click* when you push the slider up and down. There are many retractable writing tools which have a similar click, but they all pale in comparison. It also ends in a transparent nub eraser which can mostly erase faint lines, but honestly this will not be hiding derogatory messages you write from complete notice. Aside from the clicker, this writes very well with a nib that comes to a fine point, it is a great pen for bullet journal writing. For spastic clicker addicts I can confidently recommend it.
The PILOT FriXion Ball 3 manages to combine the qualities that make FriXion pens write so well, with the versatility of 3 colors to make it the utensil to fulfill all of your stationery fulfilling needs. FriXion is generally known for their rigid body which make it not so comfortable for long writing sessions, but despite being quite big for a writing tool, the PILOT FriXion Ball 3 features a slight groove in its design which makes it nestle comfortably in the nook of my hand. One problem which still exists in many multi-colored pens is how the cartridges have a tendency to jam if you push too hard or too fast; this one is not so different. In general clicking calm and smoothly showed no issues during stress testing. The ink tends to run out quickly due to the thin cartridges. I recommend purchasing ink refills because you will be running through these FAST. Overall, the PILOT FriXion Ball 3 comes at a great value for the quality of how it writes and the versatility of multi-colors.
Top Japanese Brush Pens
Generally brush pens feature a long fine brush tip, which makes it great for writing traditional Japanese wedding cards, funeral cards, and everything else. The Tombow Fudenosuke Brush is like a fusion of a traditional paint brush and a modern ink pen. The 2-pack featured here contains both a hard tipped and soft tipped side. The hard tip is great for beginners and can still produce nice calligraphy lettering while providing control, and when you want to make finer brush-like strokes the soft tipped side can do that. Brush pens generally tend to be on the pricier side, the Tombow 2-pack here is a great deal coming at half the cost of others with the same quality. The Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pen is also thin, feels good to hold, and it will surely garner compliments at your favorite artisan cafe. For those looking for an entry level brush pen this is a great choice.
Brush pens are the quintessential Japanese pen and the Pentel Portable Kirari Fude Brush Pen is not an exception. Not all can successfully mimic the feel of a calligraphy brush, but the Kirari does and feels awesome. I have often seen this one used within temples of Japan by real monks themselves. The only downside is that it's very light and the weight feels insubstantial. This is the tool for the more serious brush fanatics and the quality of Kanji you write with this is sure to impress real, living Japanese people.
Top Japanese Fountain Pens
Out of all the pens in this list, the Pilot Vanishing Point Collection Fountain Pen is the most luxurious and you can see that in its beautiful design. The takeaway with this is that it's the first retractable fountain pen of its kind. It feels fantastic when you write, which is expected from a fountain pen, and despite the nib being retracted and uncapped, it never seemed to dry out when picked up and used on the fly. Interestingly, the clip is reversed towards the tip, and after several uses, it felt deliberate in maintaining a comfortable grip. If you have the cash to use and want the quality and prestige of a fountain type that you can comfortably use on the go, the PILOT Vanishing Point Collection Fountain Pen is the one for you.
The MUJI Aluminum Body Fountain Pen is another fountain pen which comes at a fraction of the cost as the other ones in this article. This item stands out with its aluminum encasement and is also really well balanced and weighted. One thing we noticed with this is how little pressure is needed to write clean strokes. The ink flows well and the nib glides across the page. This is the tool of a professional and you will definitely receive compliments and admirement for using it. If you are looking for a more affordable option and do not need a high quality carbon fiber body and retractable fountain tip, then look no further than the MUJI Aluminum Body Fountain Pen.