The Piccolo is perhaps Nakaya’s most iconic model. The slightly radiused profile terminates in peaked ends, a refreshing contrast to the flattops and torpedos that everyone else seems to make. It is deceptively short but even chunky hands have enough to hold on to comfortably.
WORDS Karlo Tatad | PHOTOGRAPHY Robert Bosito for Adphoto
Tucked away in a Tokyo neighborhood is the Nakaya Fountain Pen Company, a small shop where great treasures are created. Nakaya employs retired Platinum Pen Company craftsmen, leveraging on their extensive experience in making pens. This preserves Old World skills for the benefit of a market hungry for distinctive offerings. Led by Toshiya Nakata, third-generation steward of Platinum, Nakaya are somewhat of an enigma in the world of fine writing instruments.
While Tokyo is where the pens come together, a lot of craft takes place outside their business address. Barrels, caps and sections are turned from ebonite rod stock in the home of Kohsuke Matsubara, an octogenarian who spent over six decades working for Platinum. Using hand tools and a traditional foot-powered lathe, he shapes the basic parts of the pens before these are sent out for coating.
The parts are then shipped to Ishikawa Prefecture where the famed artisans of Wajiima work their magic. Using centuries-old techniques, the craftsmen patiently apply multiple urushi lacquer layers to the hard rubber bits, allowing nature to dry each coat before the next is applied. To bring out the gloss, bamboo charcoal or sumi is used to gently polish the raw lacquer until the desired luster is obtained. Typically, a light tone base coat is buried beneath layers of darker colors. Over time, the dark layers lighten and more of the base coat peeks through the seams of the design. It is the Japanese take on patina and like wine, these pens get better with age. Wabi sabi could not be better expressed.
The ancient art of maki-e is offered for patrons who have enough patience and coin. In addition to using various shades of urushi, masters employ a host of gold and silver powders in diverse tones to create designs steeped in Japanese tradition. Not too many craftsmen can still take on this challenge and when they do, time is their main investment. While a standard lacquered pen can take between four to six months to cure, a maki-e pen may require up to five years to complete depending on the complexity of the motif desired. Just as speed costs money, time and intricacy dictate just how deep your pockets have to be.
Once the finishes have settled, the parts are sent back to Tokyo where Nakaya assembles and tunes each pen. An in-house manufactured nib and feed are set into the section, and the tipping is hand finished to a factory standard. Nakaya lives by the motto “For your hand only” so each pen comes with a form for the owner to specify adjustments that allow the pen to meet his or her writing habits exactly. Questions concerning hold, angle, writing speed, pressure and whether one writes in block or script, give resident nibmeister Shinichi Yoshida the information needed to match the pen to the owner’s preferences.
Let’s look at two popular models from this Japanese maker. The Piccolo is perhaps Nakaya’s most iconic model. The slightly radiused profile terminates in peaked ends, a refreshing contrast to the flattops and torpedos that everyone else seems to make. It is deceptively short but even my chunky hands have enough to hold on to comfortably. If you are the type to clip a pen to your shirt pocket, this is probably your best choice as the rest of the Nakaya models are a little too long to behave themselves in that mode of carry.
A lot of people liked the Piccolo silhouette but longed for a pen with more length and maybe a touch more girth. Aesthetic Bay, Nakaya’s partner in Singapore, worked closely with Nakaya to develop a dealer exclusive that answered this call. The Long Piccolo manages to offer a larger pen without skewing proportions out of whack. It was welcomed with great enthusiasm and pen fiends worldwide flocked to the Singapore shop to obtain this larger model. Fortunately, Aesthetic Bay manages to keep a decent selection in stock most of the year.
The Piccolo featured here is in Toki Tamenuri, a fleshy pink base topped with dark reddish brown coats. It is a Writer model, meaning it comes with a pocket clip. The Long Piccolo meanwhile, is in Aka Tamenuri or a vibrant red that glows even in the slightest light. Being a Cigar model, its clipless form highlights the sleekness of its shape. Few pens will look as elegant in a minimalist way as this variant.
The shorter model was ordered with a standard Medium nib. Japanese standards differ from their Western equivalents, so this writes closer to a European Fine. It was tuned to provide medium ink flow and so the tipping glides like silk. For daily writing, it is more than up to the task and allows one to write quickly if skill so allows.
Its larger cousin wears a Soft Fine. This isn’t like the flexible nibs of yore. The tines don’t really spread much. Rather, the softness of the nib provides a distinctively cushioned feel on the page. It will demand that you slow down a bit as you scribble your own great novel but if you back off on pressure just a touch, it will cope with faster scripts.
Small touches show the pride with which these artifacts are presented. A silk kimono clothes each pen before it is cradled in a lined Paulownia wood box. An inspection sheet details the quality checks done during each stage of the pen’s crafting, with the company president being the last to affix his seal of approval. Not one of these gentlemen takes his work lightly, so each chop on that page stakes a reputation that took decades to build.
Nakaya tries to satisfy the growing demand for its offerings, but the way these pens are made means that supply will always be below demand. They are by nature, limited editions without claiming to be such. If you crave something exclusive yet discreet, then the coveted pens from Nakaya are worth a look.