Why is Japanese Stationery A Worldwide Sensation?

by Flora Baker

Why is Japanese Stationery A Worldwide Sensation?

Wherever you’re based in the world, the popularity of Japanese stationery is undeniable. 

There’s something wholly beautiful about each and every one of these products – but it can be difficult to put your finger on exactly why. Perhaps it’s the smooth movement of Japanese pens, all of which are perfectly pleasant to hold? Or maybe it’s the slimline notebooks, filled with beautifully crafted paper that feels increasingly satisfying with every turn of the page?

 Hand reaching into a drawer of Japanese stationery.

It’s not just pens and paper, though. Tourists visit Japan exclusively for the stationery on offer, eager to grab themselves supplies of binders, pencil sharpeners, highlighters, stickers, erasers, notebook, ballpoint pen, and so much more. Stationery supplies appeal to children and adults as well. In a country known for its meticulousness, neatness, and organization, it’s worth asking which came first: the organizing nature of the Japanese – or their stationery items that makes organizing such a pleasurable experience? 

What is Japanese Stationery?

Japanese stationery can encompass a lot of different items, so we’ve explored some of the most popular. 

Japanese Pens and Pencils

 The pinnacle and peak of Japanese stationery is the humble pen. There are a variety of tip sizes to ensure a perfectly precise stroke, and decades of research to produce smooth movement across the page. 

  • Ballpoint pen: In Japan, these are not just cheap and disposable! Instead, ballpoint pens create a seriously smooth writing experience.
  • Gel pens: Invented by Japanese manufacturer Sakura, these allow the ink inside to remain solid until it’s disturbed, which then becomes liquid.
  • Fountain pen: The nibs are made by Japanese companies, allowing for these Japanese fountain pens to cost surprisingly little. 
  • Brush pens: As Japanese is historically written with brushes, a pen version needed to be created. The brush pen (or ‘fude pen’) has a brush-like elastic or hair tip. There are also water brushes for using either ink or water inside the pen.
  • Mechanical pencil: These come with refillable lead, and are a surprisingly ripe item for reinvention, whether it’s combatting lead dullness or trying to stop the lead snapping. 

Japanese Paper

Traditional paper in Japan is called washi. It uses the fibers from three plants in its carefully handcrafted manufacturing process, and results in a paper that’s thicker and more absorbent than regular paper. Washi is regarded as one of the more elegant and high quality paper products, and is used for artwork, wedding invitations and washi postcard souvenirs. Why not try out some washi notecards for yourself?

Of course, not all the paper made in Japan is washi paper. The paper you find inside notebooks, journals and planners is still high-quality though, designed to counteract ink bleeds and feathering, and feels easy and smooth to write on.

Washi Tape 

 Rolls of washi tape.

Washi tape is hugely popular thanks to its versatility. In essence, it’s a kind of translucent patterned masking tape – but it’s not used just for sticking things together. In fact, washi tape is used to decorate virtually anything you can imagine. Washi tape fans often use it to personalize objects – from kitchen utensils and bedroom door frames to greeting cards and smartphone cases. There are countless designs of washi tape, and as it peels off really easily there’s no issue if you decide to change up your designs later on. 

Why is Japanese Stationery so Popular? 

First, it comes down to cultural upbringing. In Japan, children are raised from a young age to practice writing by hand – understandable when you think that the Japanese language uses detailed characters on the page. Writing out these characters - kanji - takes time, perseverance and attention to detail. It also requires the appropriate writing materials, such as the correct pen nib and a type of paper that won’t cause the ink to run or bleed. 

So when you think of handwriting as an art form, it stands to reason that the tools required for said artform are highly valued in Japanese culture. 

Similarly, think of Japan’s historic love of paper – most commonly seen in origami, the art of paper folding. This welcomes an entire industry dedicated to creating the beautifully intricate and colorful patterns seen on origami paper. 

Then there’s the country-wide predisposition with cuteness, otherwise known as kawaii. This taps directly into consumer culture, allowing for multitudes of products to be kawaii-themed  – because let’s be honest, who doesn’t love adorable-looking stationery? This is why you’ll see tiny colorful sets of erasers shaped like sushi that look good enough to eat. 

Of course, it’s not all about cute stationery in Japanese culture. There’s a love of minimalism too: the sleek lines, the effortlessly classy aesthetic. And there’s also a definite place for traditional Japanese stationery! Think of the amount of commemorative occasions that take place in Japan’s annual calendar, and the paper-related activities that mark said occasions: like writing New Year’s calligraphy (Kakizome), or sending out wedding invitations. 

With all this in mind, it’s no wonder that stationery is popular throughout Japan – across multiple generations. But why is it so loved worldwide too? 

The global popularity of Japanese stationery is a little harder to gauge. Perhaps it’s a combination: first, the clearly high level of quality, and then the attention to detail with regard to design. There’s no doubt that care has been taken in every part of the stationery journey. 

It’s also just undeniably practical. No muss, no fuss – Japanese stationery just manages to deliver in exactly the way it’s supposed to. What’s not to love about that? 

Best Japanese Stationery Brands 

As a new Japanese stationery enthusiast, which Japanese stationery brands should you go for? Some of our favorite Japanese stationery brands include:

  • Tsubame: This notebook brand is infamously unfussy and minimalist - so much so that they barely even display the company logo. First established over 70 years ago, their products still have the same classic, vintage feel with high quality paper that’s fountain pen friendly.
  • Midori: Perhaps Japan’s most famous stationery brand. Their range includes the classic ‘Traveler’s Notebook’ with a gorgeous handcrafted leather cover, elastic closure, and various inserts to allow for personalization. Best of all, the soft cover allows these notebooks to lie completely flat when opened. 
  • Tomoe River: This paper brand creates notebooks that are super lightweight, yet designed specifically to avoid ink bleeding through. 
  • Zebra: Creator of writing instruments, particularly pens and mechanical pencils, all of which are wonderful to write with. 
  • Life Stationery: a Japanese company established in 1949 with the motto, ‘to produce stationery, to create culture’. Their handmade paper is beautiful to write on, whether with pen or pencil, and is hard to find outside of Japan – so it’s worth stocking up when visiting the country. 

See the cutest Japanese stationery goods up close with our video!

Author Bio

Flora Baker is a writer, blogger and author based in London, UK. She runs the award-winning travel website Flora The Explorer and has written for Coastal Living, Telegraph, and National Geographic Traveler.