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最近、何かいい本読みましたか? (Saikin, nani ka ii hon yomimashita ka?, Have you read any good books lately?) If you have, then this is the time to share what you know. September marks the start of 読書の秋 (dokusho no aki, the autumn of reading) in Japan.

The fall probably has a literary vibe about it thanks to the fact that this is when children go back to school after the summer holidays. 今年の夏休みはコロナ禍のせいで例年より短かった (Kotoshi no natsuyasumi wa korona-ka no sei de reinen yori mijikakatta, This year’s summer holidays were shorter than usual due to the corona crisis), but many people think of reading and writing regardless.

That may be why I’ve already made my pilgrimage to the 文房具 (bunbōgu, stationery) section at my local department store. If you’re a 文房具オタク (bunbōgu otaku, stationery nerd) like I am, then these departments are your must-go destination whenever you need to stock up on new supplies. There are pens of every 色 (iro, color) and 太さ (futosa, thickness), from 0.3 millimeters to 1.0 millimeters. ノート (nōto, notebooks) come in many sizes and types such as 無地のノート (muji no nōto, a notebook with blank paper inside), 罫線入りのノート (keisen-iri no nōto, a notebook with lined paper inside) and 方眼紙のノート (hōganshi no nōto, a notebook with grid paper inside).

If you’re studying kanji, I recommend using 方眼紙のノート in order to get the placement of the strokes right. While convenience stores usually stock 文房具, they’re less likely to have the grid type. Just ask the clerk, “方眼紙のノートはありますか?” (Hōganshi no nōto wa arimasu ka, Do you have a notebook with grid paper inside?) to make sure.

When it comes to writing, ボールペンよりシャーペンの方がいい (bōrupen yori shāpen no hō ga ii, mechanical pencils are better than ballpoint pens) for taking notes as it’s erasable. When I studied in Canada, however, I saw many local students use ペン (pen, pen) for taking notes. Maybe for them, シャーペンよりボールペンの方がいい (shāpen yori bōrupen no hō ga ii, ballpoint pens are better than mechanical pencils). 小さなことだけど、異文化を感じたのは面白かった (Chiisana koto da kedo, ibunka o kanjita no wa omoshirokatta, It was a small thing, but it was interesting to notice such a cultural difference).

Similar to シャーペン, something I’ve found to be more Japan-specific is the use of 修正テープ (shūsei tēpu, correction tape) and 消せるボールペン (keseru bōru pen, erasable ink pen), which were both invented in Japan. When I went to school in Ireland, I would carefully use my 修正テープ whenever I made a mistake, but my fellow students would just 塗りつぶす (nuritsubusu, black out) any mistakes. It drove the perfectionist in me nuts.

Japanese stationery stores aren’t just filled with pens, pencils and notebooks, though. The art of 書道 (shodō, calligraphy) has a long history here and 文房具屋 (bunbōguya, stationery stores) are also filled with 筆 (fude, writing brushes).

These days 筆 is used by most people for 新年の書初め (shinnen no kakizome, special new year calligraphy), but 書道 is also still a popular hobby. Many schools teach 書道 and some private teachers offer lessons. While it isn’t used in everyday writing, the culture of using 筆 is still reflected in Japanese terminology. For example, the verb 書く (kaku) means to write but the same idea can be expressed using the kanji for 筆, as in the terms 執筆する (shippitsu suru), 筆を執る (fude o toru) and 筆を走らせる (fude o hashiraseru), all of which have different nuances.

執筆する is often used in 論文の執筆をする (ronbun no shippitsu o suru), which means writing a dissertation. 筆を執る (Fude o toru) connotes the nuance of deciding to write and then finally getting down to it, as in, 2年間の研究の末、ようやく筆を執った (ni-nenkan no kenkyū no sue, yōyaku fude o totta, after two years of researching, I finally took up my pen). Once you get past that hurdle, the next thing to do is 締め切りに間に合うように、ひたすら筆を走らせる (shimekiri ni ma ni au yō ni, hitasura fude o hashiraseru, let the pen run in order to meet a deadline).

These days, however, most Japanese people prefer “打つ” (utsu, to type [lit. to hit]) rather than 書く: ノートに書くよりパソコンに打つ方がいい (Nōto ni kaku yori pasokon ni utsu hō ga ii, Typing on a laptop is better than writing in a notebook).

This is usually true for 履歴書 (rirekisho, CVs), though some Japanese companies still require you to write your resume out. You may hear people complain that, 手書きよりもパソコン作成の方が、効率がいい (tegaki yori mo pasokon sakusei no hō ga, kōritsu ga ii, creating [a CV] on a laptop is more efficient than writing it out by hand).

Methods of study are also migrating from 紙 (kami, paper) to digital items such as アプリ (apuri, apps) and タブレット (taburetto, tablets), while traditional 対面授業 (taimen jugyō, face-to-face lessons) are being done オンライン (onrain, online).

The transition from 日常 (nichijō, normal) to 新たな日常 (aratana nichijō, new normal) has been hastened due to the pandemic, and that has meant Japanese people who’ve stuck to pen and paper for so long have had to embrace some kind of technological upgrade in their thinking. 習うより慣れろ (Narau yori narero, Practice makes perfect), but I think I’ll always be a 文房具オタク at heart.

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