The announcement of a second state of emergency in January drew a sigh of exasperation from workers in the affected city centers, but not in the way you probably think. It wasn’t working in a physical space many were missing, but the countless office supplies that hold such spaces together.

“I miss my desk drawer and my supply of anime-themed paper clips,” Satoko Kanzaki tells The Japan Times during an online interview.

Kanzaki is an office manager at a Tokyo-based tech company. Her firm has been working remotely since March 2020 and, like many of her colleagues, Kanzaki shifted to online meetings and working from her living room.

Initially, she had welcomed the new lifestyle but, two months later, she was pining to get her hands on some office supplies.

“I decided to purchase some necessary items, such things as a stapler, sellotape, markers and a portable white board that’s useful for online meetings,” Kanzaki says. “I retrieved my paper clips one day when I went to the office. I realized that office supplies keep me sane and focused during work hours. The simple act of holding a pen makes me feel grounded.”

The Japanese love for stationery products has come to the fore in recent months as an increasing number of people profess their love for physical notepads and pens. With April coming and a new fiscal and school year right around the corner, the more enthused have been sharing their favorite products online.

One item that has catered to generations of stationery fans is the Hobonichi Techo, which is part personal organizer, part notebook. Developed by media celebrity Shigesato Itoi, the Hobonichi Techo is as easy to use as it is endearing, and social media is rife with people posting the varied, creative ways they’re using the paper product.

Nikkei Trendy notes that sales for “free address stationery” products surged in the final months of 2020 due to a general conviction that pandemic work styles were more or less here to stay.

Free address stationery is a spin off from the “free address office” that had become fashionable prior to the pandemic. The latter was a work style that endorsed freedom of movement within the office space, allowing people to stroll around or occupy any available nook with their laptops, instead of being tied down to a specific desk and chair.

Modern office supplies have now also been given the same kind of mobility. File folders, pens, extra masks and spray bottles of disinfectant can be neatly docketed and arranged inside collapsible carrying cases, for work sessions in shared office spaces or coffee shops. They’re also handy for toting inside the home, or simply residing on the corner of the kitchen table.

While hard-core fans debate the merits of buying their favorite stationery products online, experts have been offering their own advice. Speaking on news site Mynavi.jp, “stationery sommelier’ Misato Kan gives some tips on how to best deploy office items at home, for boosting productivity as well as morale. She cites three factors:

First, keep all important items within reach. Knowing that you can get your hands on anything without having to search for them, she says, will keep you focused on the task at hand.

Second, make sure that all the items are ready to go in a portable case or bag, as you may have to get up and move around at a moment’s notice.

Last but not least, ensure the items don’t take up too much space and keep your physical desktop uncluttered.

“Always keep in mind that your home is not your office, where boundaries are clear as to when work begins and stops. At home, it’s harder to concentrate but, on the other hand, it may be more difficult to stop work at the end of the day.”

For now, let’s just hope that a neatly packed bag of office supplies will set just the right tone.

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