For many, Japan is the country of ramen and green tea, Hello Kitty and beautifully made anime figures. What you might not realize is that on top of all this, Japan is also famous worldwide for its high-quality stationery! Japanese stationery is not only cute—it’s extremely well designed, with the perfect product for every situation.
What’s the reason for all this attention to detail? Despite the image of Japan as a highly digitized society, Japanese culture has always placed great importance on handwriting and physical objects. To this day, Japanese drawing and calligraphy remain popular hobbies, resulting in a competitive stationery industry where high quality is considered the bare minimum. For this reason, stationary stores are popular hangout spots and stationery is a common recreational purchase. In fact, Japanese stationery is such a big business that you’ll find a fulsome selection of stationery items even outside of specialized shops, such as in bookstores, 100-yen stores, and department stores. Make no mistake—Japanese stationery is a world apart from its Western equivalent!
Given all this, it can be a little hard to know where to start if you’re curious about Japanese stationery—but don’t worry! This guide to some of the most popular Japanese stationery brands today will have you debating pencil tips and the cutest correction tape before you know it.
First founded in 1905, Kokuyo is best known for its Campus product line, a series of stationery products designed specifically with studying in mind. The result is a product lineup designed to meet a student’s every need: the Dotted Rule Kokuyo Campus notebook, for instance, comes with a unique line-and-dot grid pattern that helps you evenly space out your writing, while the Kokuyo Campus Paracuruno won Japan’s Good Design Award for its slanted, easy-to-flip pages.
Of course, Kokuyo also sells a number of other thoughtfully designed stationery items, including pens, pencil cases, and an innovative stapleless stapler called Harinacs. If you’ve ever been given a document in Japan before, you might already be familiar with this magical invention—by creating a small flap in the paper that is then folded to hold your sheets together, Harinacs stapler guarantees that your days of running out of staples are gone!
No guide to Japanese stationery is complete without a mention of Pilot and their revolutionary line of writing implements, Frixion. Though Pilot had been experimenting with changeable ink since 1975, it wasn’t until 2005 that they released the Frixion Ball, an erasable gel pen using thermosensitive ink. The secret behind this apparent magic trick lies in the name: rubbing the pen’s eraser against any mistakes generates friction, which in turn generates heat, causing a chemical reaction in the ink that makes it invisible.
Since the release of the Frixion Ball, the Frixion lineup has expanded to include a range of colors as well as felt-tipped pens, brush pen highlighters, and even erasable stamps! In Japan today, these erasable pens are so popular it’s not uncommon for someone to test your official forms with a Frixion eraser when you try to hand them in!
When it comes to fountain pens, Japanese pen makers have a reputation for making some of the finest, most precise pens in the world. While international brands tend to outsource the all-important process of making the nib, Japanese brands usually do this production in-house, resulting in high quality, fine-tipped pens perfectly geared towards the precise art of writing intricate Japanese characters.
The Preppy Fountain Pen series offered by Platinum is a great example of this devotion to quality, and even comes with an attractively low price-tag. While many stationery brands in Japan have chosen to go after high-end customers with luxury fountain pens, Platinum easily dominates the entry-level market with their brightly colored, approachable, affordable Preppy range.
To any diehard stationery fans, Sakura Gelly Rolls needs no introduction! In the 1980s, this Japanese stationery brand made history with the Gelly Roll, the first pen to use gel-based ink. Today, the Gelly Roll remains a tremendously popular stationery item, delighting customers with its smooth ink flow, slim form factor, and an incredible range of color lines, from glitter to raised, 3D-style ink!
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Lihit Lab is a Japanese stationery brand from Osaka, best known for their adorable PuniLabo line and their remarkably spacious Teffa pen case. The PuniLabo range is some of the cutest stationery around—these silicone pouches, emblazoned with an adorable cartoon animal, come in a variety of different shapes and sizes to fit your keys, earphones, paperclips, and pens. The PuniLab pencil cases are especially popular. These cylindrical tubes are flexible and easy to carry, and even come with an elastic band for holding an eraser. Best of all, you can even convert them from a pencil case to a stand by simply popping up the bottom of the case, elevating your pens and pencils for easy access.
If you’re after something a little more rugged and functional, Lihit Lab also has you covered with the Teffa pen case, a book-type pen case loved by sketch artists worldwide. With inner straps to clip your pens and pencils onto, several mesh pockets for larger items and a sturdy sectional divider, the Teffa pen case is perfect for carrying any stationery items you want with you on the go.
If you’re any kind of stationery buff, you’ve probably already heard of Zebra Mildliner pens. These double-sided brush pens use water-based ink and are available in a unique range of colors prioritizing pastel over neon for a more gentle aesthetic. They also come with both a chisel and a fine tip, making underlining and circling just as easy as highlighting.
Besides their highlighters, Zebra is also well-known for their Sarasa range of gel pens and various mechanical pencils. With over 46 base colors of gel ink to choose from, separate luminous and pastel ranges and four different pen sizes, it’s hard to look past what Sarasa has to offer. The range even boasts a fast-drying gel ink to minimize smudging, ideal for all your bullet-journaling needs. For more practical, or simply more error-prone tasks, Zebra also sells a range of mechanical pencils, including the original “unbreakable” lead DelGuard range, perfectly geared towards writers with a heavier grip.