KOBE – When Kobe was struggling to recover from the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, stationery designer Naoyuki Takeuchi would take solace in the vivid colors of nature found around town.
In 2007, the employee of Nagasawa Stationery Center in Kobe’s Chuo Ward launched a fountain pen ink reflecting what he saw. It would become the first in a series of products dubbed the Kobe Ink Story.
He named the ink Rokko Green, a name that recalls the dark green forest of Mount Rokko, a popular tourist site in Hyogo Prefecture.
“I hoped that people would write letters with this ink to tell their friends (outside Kobe) that the city is recovering,” Takeuchi said.
The 59-year-old has since been adding a new color every few months. There are currently 48 different colors, with two more to be added by September or so, making it one of the most extensive series of fountain pen inks produced in Japan.
“Colors could look different depending on the weather, time of day and season,” Takeuchi said. “I usually find out which color is best at describing a particular scene by consulting local people.”
For the Arima hot spring resort in northern Kobe, which is famous for its reddish gold hot water, he picked amber, while crimson represents the district of Kitano, lined with former foreign residences made of red brick.
He recalls how he came up with the idea for the first ink. While clearing up earthquake damage at the shop near JR Sannomiya Station, his eyes would be drawn to the window, through which he could see the green slopes of Mount Rokko amid a landscape of collapsed buildings.
Takeuchi soon added two colors, “Wharf Blue,” representing the color of the sky and ocean he saw from a pleasure boat off Meriken Wharf one summer afternoon, and “Former Foreign Settlement Sepia,” for the Kyukyoryuchi district with its picturesque streets.
Other Kobe scenes that have inspired colors include the district of Higashinada, where the former residence of renowned novelist Junichiro Tanizaki is located, and the district of Nada, known for its sake brewery.
Takeuchi oversees the entire process, from designing the ink to placing an order for a sample to be made.
The inks have gained popularity mostly through word of mouth, as few promotional efforts have taken place.
Takeuchi has now had orders from around Japan, as well as from around 20 countries, including the United States and Brazil.
Some customers elsewhere in the prefecture have asked him to develop inks that reflect their locales, too.
“I made these inks because I love Kobe and it would be difficult for me to work with scenes elsewhere,” he said.
The 50 milliliter bottles cost ¥1,500 plus consumption tax. They’re available at the shop, as well as online.