It's 10pm in Japan and the word overwhelmed is not enough to describe how I feel right now. Day 1 of the International Stationery and Office Products Show was a success and I think I'm starting to get the hang of this. Since I started this business it has been the Japanese pencils that have been the most difficult to get to the US. I strive to stock and teach all of my friends and customers about all of the greatest pencils I can find and there's been a gap waiting to be filled by all these smaller Japanese pencil makers for a while. After meeting with so many companies today I'm realizing that I haven't been able to find so many of these things because they're unwilling, it's just that I needed to pack my bags and come here in person. Japanese business customs seem to encourage in-person meetings and being here has opened a lot of doors. In Japan stationery and writing instruments are treated in a way much more sacred than anywhere else. Aside from the sheer volume of products available here and the novelty products this country is known for there's a fundamental importance in using these things in daily life. Paper is not just something you write on, its a way of presenting yourself or an idea. Writing instruments are an accessory, not just a way to get words down.
I started the day by getting really lost in the enormous venue, walking into a very loud ribbon cutting ceremony and eventually finding my wonderful interpreter, Noriko. She was so helpful and already had ideas for a plan of action. We walked all of the aisles of products and found lots of items of interest, including beautiful cotton letter writing paper by Midori's parent company, really hilarious children electric sharpeners and lots of washi tape. SO MUCH washi tape. Maybe someone needs to open a washi tape store in New York next. Any takers?
We eventually stumbled upon Kitaboshi Pencil Company, who I wasn't even sure would be there. Kitaboshi is a very old, very small manufacturer. They make very simple, really gorgeous pencils including a jumbo, triangular naked cedar pencil in softer hardnesses that I've had my eye on for a while. Their booth was small, but then so are pencils. We had the pleasure of meeting the president of the company who was so chatty and though I couldn't understand him in Japanese, was so utterly passionate about his product. He excitedly showed us these crazy pencil caps with a stylus on the end and a product I've never seen anything like. At the Kitaboshi factory they take the cedar waste from making the pencils and grind it into a fine power. They then mix it with a binder to create a really odd, very lightweight sort of clay. In the booth they had everything from ornaments to little animal figures to a large landscape painting, all make from the pencil clay. He described using it as "painting with wood". Much to my surprise he shared that their little factory on the outskirts of Tokyo is open for tours and that they encourage the visitors to bring their pencil stumps in exchange for a new pencil. Though the translation was confusing, he described making the stumps into a sort of pencil shrine as a tribute to all of the hard work they've done for us. I immediately thought of Marie Kondo's 'The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up' where she encourages us to thank the objects in our lives for working for us. This very Japanese concept is something I've though was a little silly when I first read about it, but being here and seeing how objects are treated I'm starting to appreciate it more.
We continued the day with sore feet and a lot to see. There were so many really cute novelty things to be distracted by but we continued to find what I was looking for. In fact, almost all the pencils I was looking for.
I had worried that I was coming all this way to search for things I couldn't have, or to search for things that simply don't exist but I'm certain now that I was wrong. Tokyo is wonderful, and there's so much here that I wish I could bring back. One day I'll open a store here but for now I'll just eat and shop my way through the next few days.
(Pictured: My favorite silly find of the day--a tiny Bridge pencil from Camel Pencil Company, who also make the new Craft Design Technology pencil)