The ability of the Japanese to make a truly spectacular fountain pen is well known amongst the stationery community. From the evergreen offerings from Sailor, Pilot and Platinum, to the intrinsic details of a Maki-e finish. These consistently high-quality Japanese pens have developed somewhat of a cult-like following over the years.
For US based fountain pen enthusiast, Angus, the epitome of this Japanese craftsmanship was found in Kawakubo pens.
About the Kawakubo brand
I’ll be honest, before I spoke to Angus, the extent of my exposure to Kawakubo pens was ogling at his pictures. Upon telling him this, Angus quickly filled me in on the rich history of the company.
“I didn’t know much myself until I visited the shop in Tokyo two years ago,” Angus told us.
Angus pointed out that all Kawakubo pens are handmade by Katsumi Kawakubo.
“Katsumi Kawakubo is the third generation, following his father and grandfather to hand-make fountain pens.”
This family business dates back to 1926, with Kawakubo just celebrating their 90th anniversary. Angus tells us that he was lucky enough to get his hands on a special edition 90th anniversary Kawakubo pen.
Why a Kawakubo pen?
Obviousley this history speaks for itself, however I was curious as to what drew Angus to Katsumi Kawakubo’s pens more than any other brand.
“I would say it is mainly due to the unique aesthestic. I love Japanese pens and own a number of them. They are generally very well made and evince an attention to detail and respect for quality regardless of price. I think this distinguishes them from pens made anywhere else in the world.”
When looking at the pictutures of Angus’ pens, as well as my own experience with Japanese pens, I have to agree that this quality is unmatched. Angus insists there is more to the pens than their quality however.
“Mr Kawakubo’s pens have all these qualities, but also have a sense of warmth about them, espically my Walnut one. I think he [Katsumi Kawakubo] is a master at bringing out each materials natural quality; whether it’s wood, ebonite or even a metal trim. Katsumi has the ability combine them in a very harmoneous way.”
A family of Kawakubos
This love and appreciation of Kawakubo is clear from the start when talking to Angus. In total, Angus has four Kawakubo pens.
“Two are vintage pens, one is a pen that I custom ordered and my most recent acquisition is the 90th anniversary pen in a Red Urushi.”
Angus is quick to pick favourites with his custom Black Walnut one being the pen that gets the most use.
These pens aren’t ones that you just pick up from your favourite retailer. It has taken a long time to aquire that many pens as it is a very small scale operation.
The ordrering process
When looking online, actually finding a way to get your hands on a Kawakubo pen can seem difficult. As it seems like you need the help of inspector Clouseau to find out how to order a pen, we thought we’d solve the mystery with some help from Angus.
For those who live in or are visiting Japan, Katsumi has a small shop in Tokyo. For those not in Japan, Angus ran us through the process he went through to order his pens; “To begin the process, we usually communicate via Facebook messenger. His shop has a Facebook page. When I first visited his store, he explained that he usually makes his new pens from wood and ebonite. There is a wait time of several months due to his repair duties.”
“I took a look at his website, which shows examples of pens he has made, as well as product albums on his Facebook page. For my first pen, I decided on a wood and ebonite design. Katsumi sent me pictures of the woods he had available and I ended up going with Black Walnut.”
“Katsumi was able to complete the pen in time for me to pick up personally during a planned trip to Tokyo.”
You must trust Mr Kawakubo
As with many ‘masters’ in the creative space, sometimes it is better to have a more hands off appoach when ordering an item. Katsumi Kawakubo has been making pens for many years, so with this in mind, Angus gave very few constraints when ordering his custom pens.
“I’ve found the process to be slightly different to other custom pens I’ve ordered.”
As Angus tells us, this is not neciserally a bad thing.
“It can be difficult for some people to order a pen without lots of detailed reference in terms of what the final product will look like, but for me that is part of the excitement of working with a master like Mr. Kawakubo. I am completely comfortable placing my trust in his judgment and skills, and don’t like to be too specific with my requests. In doing so, the process is more akin to conversation than a formal ordering process, which might not be ideal for some people, but I love it. I also highly recommend visiting his shop if you ever find yourself in Tokyo, but remember to order several months in advance if you want to pick up your custom pen in person.”
The perfomance of the pens
Having written with various pens from other Japanese manufactuers such as Platinum, Pilot and Sailor, I was keen to know how Kawakubo pens perform.
Angus has an extensive collection of pens and these pens are right up there with the very best in all areas he tells us.
“All of my Kawakubo pens write beautifully, which is not surprising given the amount of work Mr. Kawakubo does as a nibmeister. In terms of feel, my Imperial black walnut pen stood out immediately from the rest of my collection: it felt “broken in” from the moment I received it. As I mentioned before, the pen has a sense of warmth, and the combination materials – ebonite, metal, and wood – makes for a very pleasant tactile experience. It also stands out in terms of looks because of its somewhat chunky design, and I love the little details like the clip screws, the subtle barrel imprint engraving, and the turning on the blind cap.”
An everyday tool
Despite their handcrafted nature, Angus insists that his custom Imperial Black Walnut Kawakubo is a true workhorse pen.
“As much as I enjoy my traditional Japanese eyedropper pens, I find them less practical for daily use outside of the house because of the ink drips that result from screwing down the ink shut-off mechanism after writing. My Imperial black walnut pen has a piston mechanism for easy filling, a decent ink capacity, and is very sturdy, so I take it with me to school and work where I use it every day.”
As is the case with collecting, you are always on the lookout for the next addition. Angus excitedly tells us he has another custom Kawakubo pen on the way from Japan, and of course he is already thinking about the one after that!
For further reading and info;
- Angus’ Instagram: @ajdowton
- Katsumi Kawakubo’s website
- Kawakubo Facebook page
- Masters of the fountain pen series
I hope you enjoyed the second edition of ‘Pens of the People’. If he missed the first one, we take a look at an incredible Wahl-Eversharp Skyline collection. This series is only possible because of the amazing generosity of all those within the community and I would like to thank Angus his willingness to share his amazing collection with us. If you would like to see more of his amazing collection go check out his Instagram feed.
If you have an interesting pen or collection that you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. Send us an email or get in touch via social media.