20 January 2022

Foreign (and also Domestic) Urushi

There are some people, mostly outside Japan, for whom anything related to urushi acquires a semi-mythical value. In Japan, some companies do cash on this perception through high prices and long, very long waiting times to deliver the order.

Expensive and slow.

But the landscape has changed dramatically in recent years. An increasing number of craftsmen both in Japan and overseas have started their business decorating pens, and other goods, with urushi-related techniques. Their names are becoming well-known—Bokumondoh in Japan, Tamenuri Studio in Poland, Manu Propria in Switzerland, Vivek Kulkarni in India, Mr. Cypress in Taiwan, … Needless to say, their quality and styles are different, but they do offer an alternative to those companies with high prices and long waiting times.

Urushi-e made in Japan. Bokumondoh in action.

All these operations make me think that the excuses some use are just means to control the demand instead of real arguments. The fact right now is that most of those artisans are producing more and cheaper, and with high standards of quality regardless of the local climate—if someone can polymerize urushi in the very dry Spanish plateau you can do it almost anywhere!

Urushi-nuri made in the dry plains of Spain. Nuart Cygnus (base pen by Antigua's).

But the consequences of this popularization of urushi, and the proliferation of craftsmen all over the World, is the cheapening of urushi and the decoration associated to it. Now, urushi is no longer something rare and difficult. Now, urushi decoration can come from Japan or from the US; from Korea or from Poland. The offer is deep and wide and the market will apply its rules.

The label “made in Japan” will still hold some value, but that label is no longer the exclusive property of a couple of makers. And in the meantime, third-party craftsmen, in Japan and abroad, compete with the same tools.

Pilot Vpen, M nib – Pilot Iroshizuku Ku-jaku

Bruno Taut
December 18th, 2021
etiquetas: Japón, urushi, mercado

13 January 2022

Thai Pilot Inks

Some months ago I got to know about some Pilot inks made in Thailand, where the company had a manufacturing plant since the 1950s.

There were at least three ink colors manufactured in Thailand—blue, blue-black, and black. I could only get my hands on two of them, and the current analysis is limited to those—blue and black.

Two Pilot inks made in Thailand. Photo courtesy of Papishdama.

The question to answer is obvious—are these Thai inks of the same formulation as those made in Japan?

Two blue inks by Pilot, one is made in Japan; the other, in Thailand.

Smell wise, the Thai inks have a very distinctive phenol odor whereas those made in Japan are almost odor-less. The black ink, though, releases a hint of ammonia.

On paper, both pairs show similar tones. The Thai blue is slightly lighter in color, and the Japanese version occasionally adds some purple sheen. The Thai ink has a higher surface tension.

Re black ink, the Thai one is again slightly lighter and less brilliant than the Japanese  ink.

Mise en place.

Finally, the chromatography shows that the dye composition is different in both pairs. The differences are bigger in the black inks. But the conclusion is clear—Thai and Japanese inks are different formulations.


Not much can I say about Pilot in Thailand. It started in 1953, and the manufacturing plant was located in Bangkok. The Thai black ink is dated in 2013, and we can assume that the Pilot plant was open until at least that year. As of today, the Pilot Thailand website (http://www.pilotpen.co.th/) is not active, and there is no reference to Thailand in the Pilot Global site.

Manufacturing date of the Thai black ink--Thai year 2556, which corresponds to AD 2013. Photo courtesy of Papishdama.

My thanks to my friend and ink connoisseur Papishdama.

Note (August 2022): It seems that the Thai Pilot was related to the Korean Pilot, a different company than the Japanese one. Korean Pilot is not operating currently.

Chilton Large – Sailor Yama-dori

Bruno Taut
January 12th, 2022
etiquetas: Tailandia, tinta, Pilot

10 January 2022

East and West

The following picture shows the fundamental difference between pen shows in in the East and in the West:

Pens, pens, and pens. Madrid Pen Show 2021.

On this picture alone there are more pens than in any of the pen shows celebrated in Tokyo. And that is a representation of the differences in philosophies associated to them—Western shows are about pens, pens, and pens. Second hand and vintage pens are the name of the game, and after that you could also find some new pens and some inks and paper.

On the contrary, pen shows in Tokyo –and in other East Asian cities- are about cute things... and some pens, mostly new. Sure enough a couple of traders might be there offering used pens, but their offer pales in comparison to what you can see on a single table in Madrid, as the firs picture showed.

Lots of people, very few pens.
Tokyo International Pen Show 2019.
(Picture courtesy of Inktraveler).

As I have repeatedly said (::1::, ::2::), they are not pen shows but stationary salons where brands and new entrepreneurs show their products. But the formula works and there is no real incentive to change it.

Bottom line—if you were interested in pens go West, paradise is there.

Omas Extra ca. 1940 – Sailor Yama-dori

Bruno Taut
December 17th, 2021
etiquetas: España, Japón, evento, Tokyo, Madrid