Asian Stationery

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When my daughter came home to visit for the Thanksgiving weekend she brought a super cute collection of Asian stationery her friend Sarah gave me to discuss on the blog. I think I may have literally squealed with delight when I was told I could keep it. It is a mix of writing paper, envelopes, little notes, and page marker sticky flags. The paper quality of these items isn’t great, they are mostly a bit thin, but they have an extremely sweet esthetic. This sort of look is called kawaii in Japanese and originated there, but it is also common in other Asian countries like China, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Thailand. There are a few theories as to why this style is so popular even among adults in Asia but most commentators explain it as harmless escapism. Adulthood is generally stressful there compared to the carefree innocence of childhood.

So just what was in the package? Here is a breakdown of the items:

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Little Friends stationery – This is a pad of pastel coloured, lined notepaper with every page being different. All of the pages have whimsical characters, none of which I recognize, and sayings like “To get the full valus of joy you must have someone to divide it with”. These saying don’t really make grammatical sense but you know what they mean. The back of the pad says it is made in Korea by i-Zone. When I looked up the company, it came up as manufacturing and selling automotive parts in South Korea so this is either a bizarre sideline or there is more than one i-Zone Company in Korea. 

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Animal Mints stationery notepaper and envelope – I believe this stationery set came from the Japanese variety store called Daiso. Daiso has over 3,000 stores worldwide but only one in Canada (in Richmond, BC). I was once given a postcard colouring book of vegetables from this store so not everything they sell is kawaii, some is just odd. 

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Hello Happy Macaron and Hope Clover stationery – I couldn’t track down where these sets of notepaper with matching vertical envelopes came from but they also have sweet illustrations with slightly weird sayings. 

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MashiMaro envelope – MashiMaro is a Korean rabbit character that goes against the standard manga trope with his small eyes and bad attitude. On this envelope he is not wearing a toilet plunger on his head as he is commonly portrayed.   

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Sumikko Gurashi notes – This is usually translated as Things in the Corner which sounds somewhat alarming to me but are supposed to evoke the coziness of a coffee shop. They are a strange mix of animal and food characters created by the San-X company of Japan.  

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Fold over animal notes – These cute little notes are designed so when folded over you get a different picture of the characters. They would have made perfect notes to put into lunchboxes but alas they have come into my life about 15 years too late for that.

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Other little treasures in the package include animal page marker sticky flags and notes. I especially like the penguin note with flowers and hearts. 

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Thailand Post padded mailing envelope – This wasn’t part of the package from Sarah but I thought I would include it because it is another example of this style. It is a standard envelope issued by the Communications Authority of Thailand and Thailand Post. It makes me wish Canada Post would try a bit harder.

Thanks again for the fun stationery, Sarah!

If this stationery were a person, they would be kind-hearted and nostalgic with a charming smile and big glasses.

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Zebra Z-Grip Ballpoint Retractable Pen

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I got an unusual request via my daughter. A woman she only referred to as a “friend” asked if I take requests of pens to review on the blog. Never having had a request before, I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity. Plus, as the Zebra Z-Grip only cost $.75 CDN, it was well within the MPP2P budget. I went ahead and purchased what the manufacturer calls the teal and violet colours.

The anonymous requester is left-handed and loves the Z-Grip because it doesn’t smudge. Lefties have many challenges in a right-handed world including, as the Handedness Research Institute has studied, handwriting. The Zebra Pen Corporation itself promotes its rapid dry ink as being a boon to lefties and claim on their website “this is something left-handed people have been dreaming of since 3000 BC when writing on papyrus scrolls and reed pens was fashionable. Progress takes time, but it’s worth it, thanks to the innovators at Zebra pen.” Their corporate blog even includes posts like “5 Fun Facts About Lefties”. I’m not left-handed myself but I like it when companies consider the needs of minority groups.

Although these pens are made in China, the company was founded in Japan in 1914 by a Mr. Ishikawa. He had big plans for his company and wanted a name that would work in the export market so he picked up a an English/Japanese dictionary and opened it from the back, Japanese style, and didn’t get too far before he stopped at Zebra. Their website says it appealed to him as a name because zebras are gentle animals with a strong family herding instinct, just like the type of business culture he wanted to nurture. He also found zebras visually appealing because it “looks like it is decorated with large calligraphic pen strokes”.

Now about these pens in particular – they are ballpoint pens but are a step up from stick pens in that these are retractable. This is nice if you have a habit of losing pen caps or find it relaxing to repetitively click on the end. They have a comfortable rubbery ridged grip and a clear barrel so you can see if the ink supply is getting low. Unfortunately there is no way to refill them so into the landfill they go unless you have access to a pen recycling program, but they do get points for coming without packaging. The tip of the pen has a diameter of 1.0 mm which is on the larger size (you can get pens that are half that). The larger the diameter of the tip, the more ink flows out so smaller tips give a finer line and larger tips a bolder line. The more ink flowing out also means larger tip pens get used up faster (I could already see a noticeable reduction in the ink level just from testing the pens) so an argument could be made it is more economical and eco-friendly to go with fine line pens. The ink is oil based which is why it resists smudging.

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Personally, I quite like the feel of these pens but I don’t consider them exceptional. The purple (violet) is a very nice colour but the turquoise (teal) is a bit dull and doesn’t write as smoothly. I was wondering if it was just me who was underwhelmed by the performance of these pens, so I asked a few other people (including two lefties) to try them out and give their impressions. Alas, no one was particularly impressed but I do think these pens are good value for the price.

If a Zebra pen was a person it would be a bold and colourful individual, accepting of all types. This person has nothing to hide and is easy to get hold of but keep in mind they are budget conscious so don’t plan an expensive outing.

Washi tape

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I love washi tape. It is a type of tape made from special Japanese paper usually made from mulberry, or other natural fibres, but not from wood pulp. Although washi tape has a delicate appearance, it is actually quite tough. Because it is paper tape, it is sort of like masking tape but usually decorative, often with printed patterns and slightly opaque. Because it is paper, it can be torn by hand and written on. I find it quite versatile and use it to decorate pages, tape down ephemera in my journal, or seal envelopes.

I bought my first roll of washi tape at a store called The Artworks. This tape is from a Japanese company called mt with a fascinating history dating back to 1923 when it began as the Kamoi Fly Catch Paper Works. It makes sense that as the market for fly paper shrunk to shift the business to making masking tape. I love the colour and elegant design.

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My daughter knew about my enthusiasm for washi tape and brought me back three rolls from Japan. One has a blue chevron design and is from the Rinrei Tape company. They don’t have as interesting a website as mt, but they also began making washi tape in the 1960’s.

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The other two rolls are part of a set called Islands & Waves that she got at the Benesse Art Site Naoshima. The actual wording on the package says: “Inspired by the gentle waves and the islands dotting the Seto-Inland Sea, these masking tapes. They are made of Japanese traditional handmade paper (washi), and have been used for architectural use. With your imagination please find many different uses for them; little accents for letters or cards, for wrapping or collage.” I feel something may have been lost in translation as I am not sure what the architectural use would be.

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There is a big difference between true Japanese washi tape and novelty tapes. For example, I bought patterned Scotch “Expressions” masking tape from Target a few years ago. It has its uses, but is very coarse (just like the beige type) compared to washi tape.

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I also bought a set of decorative tape with a maps and old paper theme which is really like a long sticker on a roll but it doesn’t at all have the feel of washi tape.

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If washi tape was a person they would be attractive and refined but not as fragile as they look. Washi tape is a great collaborator and adaptable to many situations.

Brush Pens

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I am going to give another shout-out to my big sister again this week. She lent me her brush pen for testing comparison and helped me review all of them.

Ink brushes, like the ones used in Asian calligraphy, are believed to have been around since 300 B.C. Brush pens work much the same way and can be used for the same purposes without the inconvenience of requiring liquid ink to dip the brush into. Instead, the brush tips are fed by an ink reservoir. These pens are also great for western calligraphy and sketching.

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I first tried out a brush pen last year when my daughter brought me back one from her visit to Japan. This Akashiya pen is beautiful – pretty to look at and nice to hold. I have done a little calligraphy with it but mainly have just had fun sketching. You have to get used to the feel of this type of pen since you control thick and thin lines through pressure.

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Elisabet’s pen is a Pentel pocket brush pen. It has a classic plain black body so is not as attractive as mine but has the advantage of being refillable by buying ink cartridges. The ink in it also seems to load into the brush part a bit better than mine but that might be because it is newer. She purchased it locally at the Paint Spot when she took a brush style calligraphy workshop there. Both pens have nice dark ink.

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Similar to these pens are brush markers. The ones I have are from a company called Stampin Up! that sells rubber stamps and paper crafting products through direct sellers in the same way that Avon or Tupperware do (and to a similar demographic), although mine were purchase from a garage sale. They have dual tips so one end has a brush and the other a fine marker tip. They are fun but are more like markers than brushes so you don’t get the same feel of a brush stroke.

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Finally, I have a Pentel Color Brush that came in a box of random calligraphy supplies at a different garage sale. This one is quite old but newer versions of it are still on the market. The casing part of the pen is a soft plastic that can be squeezed. The whole casing on this brush pen is the ink cartridge and to replace it you need to buy a new one and screw it onto the brush tip.

All of the brush pens, even the markers, are from Japan and the type of line you get depends a lot on the type of paper used. Smooth paper gives a smooth line while rougher paper gives a rougher line. I personally think it works best on a smooth surface like tracing paper but there is also some appeal to the quality of the brush strokes you can create on slightly coarser paper.

Overall, I have a bias towards my own brush pen but if a trip to Japan is not in your future, the Pentel pocket brush is a great refillable pen.

If these pens were people, they would have to be Japanese with a respect for tradition but a love of modern convenience.