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PEN AND PAPER, PLEASE

Getting the write stuff

by Martin Webb

Beyond scribbled shopping lists and jotted memos, putting pen to paper is increasingly rare in this age of electronic communications. But that only serves to enhance the delight of discovering a hand-addressed envelope on the doormat. While sending a signed and sealed missive is a sure way to show how much you care, it is a time-consuming endeavor. All the more reason, then, to glorify the letter-writing ritual with some slightly superior tools for the job.

Department stores invariably carry strong selections of stationery — especially for weddings and greetings cards — while trusty old Tokyu Hands also offers plenty of affordable epistle-crafting essentials. Japan’s broadest lineup of writing-related goods, however, is to be found at hallowed stationer Ito-ya. For those unwilling to brave the bustle at its 11-story flagship in Ginza, or venture into one of its seven smaller sister stores in the Kanto area, the venerable chain has an online shopping site (in Japanese only), purveying the best of its mind-boggling stock.

The most obvious destination for Japanese-style stationery and paper accouterments is Kyukyodo, which besides its famous — and always packed — Ginza shop has branches in Shibuya, Shinjuku, Yokohama and Ikebukuro. But for those determined to acquire something a little less run-of-the-mill for their correspondence, Tokyo offers an abundance of highly attractive options.

Nestled away in a quiet back street of genteel retail paradise Omotesando is Winged Wheel, which sells 100 percent cotton paper in designs inspired by traditional Japanese patterns. The store’s stunning interior, decorated with suspended sheets of finely textured paper, is a fitting showcase for its highly attractive merchandise.

Offering everything from translucent paper decorated with family crest (kamon) designs to envelopes made from Mulberry tree pulp and stationery featuring motifs from traditional kimono fabrics. Kansai residents will be pleased to know that Winged Wheel also has a similarly spectacular store in Osaka’s Shinsaibashi district.

If vertically lined Japanese-style washi paper and the like are not what fit the bill, then perhaps the ultimate in traditional Western-style stationery will afford more motivation to get into the habit of snail mail. A wide selection of merchandise from Smythson — suppliers of stationery to the British royal family — is available at the Acquascutum store in Marunouchi, while a more modest range can be found at the men’s annex of Shinjuku department store Isetan.

If trendy modern minimalism, rather than regally endorsed writing equipment, is the order of the day, newly launched stationery brand Craft Design Technology offers an attractive solution. Designed by Japanese creative masterminds Shuwa Tei and Azzami in conjunction with Wallpaper founder Tyler Brule, CDT boasts a sophisticated but unostentatious look. Ranging from Scotch tape dispensers to desk lamps, not to mention an impressive lineup of writing tools and paper goods, the brand is available at over 70 stores nationwide, including United Arrows and BALS Tokyo.

After acquiring attractive paper and envelopes on which to write, the next step is to invest in a writing implement that serves as additional motivation to sit down and play scribe. Beyond the department stores, there are many boutiques specializing in pens throughout Japan. The most highly regarded of these is Shosaikan, which has its headquarters in Aoyama and a small boutique in Haneda airport.

The Aoyama store boasts a selection of over 2,000 pens from 35 makers, ranging from famous manufacturers such as S.T. Dupont, Parker, Waterman, Faber-Castell and Mont Blanc to more obscure brands like France’s Recife and England’s Conway Stewart.

Shosaikan is decorated with a huge number of fascinating antiques, and incorporates a stylish terrace cafe where customers who have seen fit to make a purchase are offered complimentary coffee and the chance to peruse a library of vintage Japanese books and magazines. Congenial owner Masatoshi Akahori says that some of his customers spend as long as seven hours browsing the store and relaxing on the terrace.

Owning an exquisitely crafted pen and attractive paper must surely serve to encourage authorship of letters, and for anyone nagging themselves to put pen to paper more often, one of these stores might just offer a solution.