Alas, I'm done with ISOT and finally had some time for explore Tokyo on my own. My hotel is in Ginza, so I'm walking distance to a lot of shops (including Ito-ya! More on that later) and easy taxi distance to Tokyo Big Sight, the ISOT venue. It's been easy to get around with the help of my English map but today I actually needed to take the metro, the thing that causes me the most anxiety while travelling. Let me just say that if you're here are are a little afraid of the super crazy metro network, Google Maps is your best friend. If you enter where you're going to get the map directions, it'll tell you exactly how much money to put on your ticket (which varies based on destination), which numbered platform your train will come to and which numbered exit to take when you arrive at your destination--which is very important because there are TONS of exits spanning a rather large distance. The Tokyo metro system is by far the most organized I've seen and also the easiest once you figure it out. In the cars there are little TVs that tell you on what side the doors will open, exactly how many minutes to each destination and exactly where the escalator will be when you get off the train. It's truly incredibly efficient and makes me understand why so many of my visiting friends complain about how confusing the New York subway is.
I started my day in Shibuya, a neighborhood that is really touristy in the main stretch. There are tons of big box stores but also a network of tiny streets with lots of design shops and really cool lesser known Japanese brands. My mission was to find Tokyu Hands, a sort of all-purpose DIY shop. I'd been to the smaller one in Ginza a few days ago where I found the Tombow Mono KM-KKS 4B, which is similar to the Mitsubishi Penmanship pencil but with a more fun design. It's kind of the unicorn of large brand Japanese pencils and I was surprised to find it in real life. This shop if really crazy. It's the size of a department store and sells primarily stationery, art supples, cosmetics, home goods and DIY thinks. The Shibuya location even had a cafe and a section for making 3D models. Living in a city where we should be able to find everything one could ever need/want I often find myself frustrated by the inability to find certain craft items. If only we had one of these in New York--there's seriously everything I would ever need to make anything.
After lunch (at Ichiran--a ramen restaurant where you eat in your own tiny cubicle) I walked to Harajuku, a place I was sort of disappointed by. I was expecting a total visceral overload of kawaii-ness but instead found streets full of tourists snapping photos and lots of sock shops and street-side creperies.
My free-time on this trip is limited, so I decided from the beginning to make it mostly about stationery--next time I'll do all the other things. The rest of my day was spent at Ito-ya, the mecca of Japanese stationery. The flagship is in Ginza and was very recently re-opened and is the size of a small department store. Each floor has a different theme 'create', 'desk', 'meeting', 'travel', 'home', etc. The design is quite minimal and each floor is stocked with a vast but not overwhelming selection of things--it's well curated though I did notice a few things missing. If you're looking of novelty erasers and tacky letter writing sets you won't find them here but if you want a gold-plated correction tape holder or top-quality cotton paper you'll be in paradise. There's even an area where you can design your own spiral bound notebook and watch it be made. I left with lots of letter writing sets, cards but not much else, as the writing instruments are across the alley in the annex, K.Itoya.
K.Itoya is smaller, darker and feels much more upscale. There is a floor for fountain pens, a floor for globes and a floor for art materials/pencils amongst many others. Since I opened the shop in March I've had an enormous number of requests for Ito-ya pencils, most for writing music. Fans claim that their eraser is incredible and they're just dark and smooth enough. As they are a store-branded pencil they're not available for wholesale distribution but I think I figured something out. A couple of months ago when we first received the new Craft Design Technology pencils I noticed that they have the exact same very unique eraser as the Ito-ya pencil and that they write very very similarly. On the back of the box it says that they're made by Camel Pencil Co. While at ISOT I visited the Camel Pencil Co. booth and noticed that the very minimal eraser on both pencils is indeed their trademark. They sell retail but mostly make pencils for other companies. The rep in the booth told us that they're now doing pencils for MoMA which are round, have the same eraser and are identical to the Ito-ya ones. This is a mystery that I haven't solved completely but I will say with confidence that I'm 95% sure that the ever popular Ito-ya pencil is the same as the CDT ones.
Anyway, it'd be a shame to leave K.Itoya without buying as many pencils as they'd allow so I did just that. They even had a gorgeous metallic jumbo pencil which I hadn't seen before, though there were only 6 in stock.
By now I'm starting to feel like maybe I could live here. Despite the fact that it's expensive, I appreciate the etiquette and the friendliness and the safety of this place. I appreciate how when you buy small things they go in a tiny bag to fit safely inside the big bag. I love how people line up to cross the street or get on a bus. It all makes sense and seems civilized on a kind of extreme level. I feel guilty for the fact that I keep thinking of the Lego Movie (which I love) in reference to how everything works here. Maybe Tokyo lacks the same sort of energy and the passion of New York City but it has a calmness and sometimes superficial sense of happiness that I find really comforting as a foreigner.
(Pictured: the pencil testing station at Ito-ya. All of the pencils fit in compartments on a slanted shelf or in drawers below under very dramatic lighting)