Pencil Review: Mitsubishi 4563 (2B)

Japanese pencils: most pencil snobs think they’re awesome. I mean, even the Blackwing pencils (everyone’s favorite) are made in Japan. And among the various Japanese pencil-makers, Mitsubishi — maker of the 9800 and the very fancy, highly-fawned-over Hi-Uni — has a reputation for making a very, very nice pencil.

Mitsubishi Pencils aren’t just for pretentious Americans, though. In Japan, their product lines reach all the way down to the everyday pencil-pusher (like me!) and even the elementary school desk, where kids grapple with writing for the first time. That’s where you’ll find pencils like the 4563. Does Mitsubishi’s quality trickle down with it? I got my hands on a box of the 2B grade pencils to find out.

Construction Quality

The Mitsubishi 4563 is a triangular-grip pencil that comes in a “lemon-lime” color scheme: the box of twelve pencils contains six each in bright yellow and lime green. These pencils are also clearly meant for domestic Japanese consumption: the writing on the box, and on the barrels of the pencil, is all in Japanese. As a non-Japanese reader, I cannot discern if these pencils have any name other than the 4563 model-number printed on the box. Oooooh, mystery. Fun!

The triangular casing, which has a nice wide bevel to it, is painted in a simple smooth lacquer. It’s not particularly thick but it is shiny and consistent. The Mitsubishi logo and sparse Japanese text are emblazoned in gold on one facet. The imprinting is impeccable. A white, thinly-screen printed “2B” grade bubble is applied to two of the three sides, and aside from that the only text is a very small white Japanese imprint and a barely noticeable etched batch number. Overall the look is sleek and uncluttered. There is no eraser, and the ends are cut square with no dip or cap.

The cores all appear to be very well-centered. However, the problem is the barrel straightness.

I am surprised to be typing this about a Mitsubishi pencil, but: some of the barrels are really warped. Out of the dozen in the box, ten of the 4563’s were arrow-straight, which is about what I expected. But two of them have enough of a banana bend that I could tell just by holding them in my hand. If you check out the image below, it’s pretty clear that there is a really noticeable bend to that one.

The warped pencils are hard to get sharpened evenly, since they won’t go into the sharpener straight. Aside from that, sharpening is a pleasurable experience overall, but with a bit of rough edges. The wood seems fairly brittle, coming off in short pieces rather than an intact ribbon, and tends to end up a little unfinished with a hand blade. Helical sharpeners produce a better point but do leave tool marks on the wood and core (as seen above). In either case, though, the throat remains intact without any splintering, transitioning smoothly into the core tip, and the pleasant aroma of real cedar has me sniffing the points in between notes.

I haven’t detected any significant issues with the core strength or bonding. If you like needle-point tips, the core doesn’t tend to hold those well (spoiler alert: it’s soft) but the helical sharpeners that I use for most desk work blunt the tip off just a bit, and this holds up just fine. I haven’t experienced a lot of crumbling tips, and despite being sat on and bent in my back pocket, the cores have remained intact.

Performance

Right off the bat, I could tell that the 2B Mitsubishi 4563 writes like you’d expect a B-scale Japanese pencil to write. It’s a whole different animal than the office store American #2/HB pencil, even though it’s ostensibly only two small grades different.

First off, this pencil has a quite dark-writing core. Of course we expect a 2B to be a couple of shades darker than an HB, but this pencil writes with profound boldness and a little darker than a typical 2B. It’s darker than the Chung Hwa 101 2B, Derwent 2B and the Blackwing 602. It looks about the same as the Nataraj Bold, to my eye, and a little lighter than the Blackwing Pearl.

Also, there is no scratchiness. As you write with the 4563, you can hear the mark on the page, but you can barely feel it. What you can feel is a buttery, gliding smoothness — more so than the standard Blackwing. Even the sound is more muted. I feel like smooth pencils give my penmanship a little boost and I really enjoy looking at the handwriting I produce with this triangular guy.

In other words, I really love the darkness and smoothness of this pencil!

The downside, in case you hadn’t guessed, is that the point of the 2B-graded 4563 wears down pretty fast. While writing notes for work, it seemed like I had the urge to sharpen before I finished even a middling-sized paragraph. I did a line-by-line comparison with the Blackwing Pearl (which is softer) and found that the Pearl actually slightly outperformed the 4563. I like soft pencils and usually don’t mind the relative lack of point retention, but the tip of this pencil seems to erode a little too fast for my taste.

It’s also pretty smudgy. I smeared it alongside the Blackwing Pearl and the 4563 made a bigger mess. This translates into real-life: while using it for daily duty, I noticed that it doesn’t take much to smudge the graphite mark around the page.

While it has no eraser of its own, the Mitsubishi 4563 fits all caps snugly and looks quite fashionable with a white pop-on eraser such as the Hi-Polymer. It’s eraseability will depend on the quality of your eraser, but seems slightly tough to fully erase and prone to a little bit of smearing around the edges.

Conclusions

Overall, the Mitsubishi 4563 2B pencil is an example of the classic trade-offs between smoothness and darkness on the one hand, and point-retention and smudge-resistance on the other.

The core writes like a dream. It’s bold, dark, and consistent with barely any abrasiveness to it. It’s kind of a “gel pen” type pencil. I almost feel bad about harping on its downsides because, damn, the writing on the page looks beautiful.

That said — and it’s strange for me to be saying this — I think that it is perhaps a little too soft for an everyday writing pencil. Perhaps if it were a hex-shaped or round pencil, this wouldn’t be so bad. As the graphite tip wears flat relative to my writing angle, I find myself rolling the pencil around in my hand to find a sharp facet to write with. The triangular barrel takes a little more effort to roll, and limits the options for finding a fresh piece of core. The smudginess is kind of a bummer, too. Left-handers beware!

The lemon-lime yellow/green lacquer, uncluttered barrel, and simple design look great and go well with a white eraser cap. The casing is soft enough that sharpeners with metal clamping teeth do tend to bite into it, and those are highly noticeable on the smooth, glossy finish.

Finally, the issue of barrel-warping can’t be ignored. Sharpening frustrations are, in my opinion, the biggest annoyance with wooden pencils in general and when one is bent enough that it’s difficult to sharpen it evenly, that’s worth calling out. Especially because I think people go into buying pencils made by Mitsubishi with an assumption that QC issues will be rare.

All things considered, I find the Mitsubishi 4563 pencil to be thoroughly “okay”. Leadfast came to similar findings: pretty good, but no “wow” factor. It’s a dark, soft pencil that writes really nicely but certainly isn’t a magic bullet that slays the age-old problem of dark, soft pencils going dull in a hurry. Throw in the crookedness of the barrels and the resulting off-center sharpening, and I find it hard to give this pencil a high recommendation. They’re certainly not bad, but don’t mistake the Mitsubishi logo and mysterious Japanese writing for signs that these are the “Budget Hi-Uni”. There are other pencils that fit that description much better.

2 thoughts on “Pencil Review: Mitsubishi 4563 (2B)

  1. Heidi June 13, 2019 / 1:00 pm

    I notice the logo is the same as the Mitsubishi vehicle logo… is it the same company making automobiles and pencils? That would be quite a widely diverse range. What are your thoughts on that?

    And I had the thought that what qualifies for a good everyday writing pencil in Japan may be different than in America due to the style of writing. I believe Japanese characters originated from brush strokes, so I would think a super-soft triangular pencil, that created some sharp edges and some flat edges while writing, would be beneficial to creating bold and diverse lines to Japanese characters. Or I could be thinking of Chinese writing?!?! I took a bit of Chinese in college and my professor told me that all students are taught to write with their right hand, regardless of other hand preferences in different activities. Maybe it’s the same in Japan? So they wouldn’t have to worry about smudgeness so much.

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    • Jesse June 13, 2019 / 5:52 pm

      Lots to unpack here!

      So here’s some interesting history…Mitsubishi isn’t really one company but an umbrella group of dozens of separate companies, most of whom (but not all) call themselves “Mitsubishi ___ Company”. There was an original Mitsubishi company in pre-war Japan, but it was disbanded during the post-war occupation. So now there are numerous smaller Mitsubishis that are independent businesses, but they do participate in a larger association of Mitsubishi Companies.

      The irony is that the Mitsubishi pencil company isn’t even a “real” Mitsubishi. They weren’t part of the original Mitsubishi, aren’t part of the Mitsubishi Group, and pretty much just re-named themselves “Mitsubishi” in the 1940’s and swiped the logo amid the break-up of the original Mitsubishi company. I guess at that point “Mitsubishi” became more of a concept than a trademark, but I’m not sure the actual Mitsubishi Group agrees!

      As far as how handwriting styles may lend themselves to softer or harder leads: I know very little about the Japanese writing system but I believe each character represents an entire word or syllable. If so, it seems intuitive to me that a person could write some amount of text in Japanese with fewer, shorter strokes than writing the same text in English, which would require numerous letters. If it requires less graphite to convey the same idea in Japanese, point retention may not be as important. Although, I’m not sure if this hypothesis stands up, because many of the kanji are very complex and dense; maybe it actually takes more graphite to write in Japanese. Maybe darkness is preferred since all of details and nuances of the minute strokes need to stand out from the page with greater contrast? Maybe there’s a connection to brush strokes, like you point out? But wouldn’t the broad line from a dull tip make it hard to produce the fine detail required?

      Maybe it’s something else entirely. Thai and Indian pencils seem to run soft, too, and they don’t write the same way. There is no guideline for grading pencils — it could just be that the grading system evolved its own way in Japan. It could be that consumers there simply prefer darker marks and have more patience for sharpening than Americans. Maybe it has something to do with the availability and qualities of the raw materials (graphite, clay, etc.) available in Japan vs. North America and Europe.

      I did a little googling and (perhaps similar to China) Japanese is easier to write right-handed because the strokes of the kanji have a very specific order and direction in which they are intended to be written, and it’s hard to reproduce the fine details accurately when trying to “push” the strokes rather than “pull” them, or vice-versa. That said, it seems like it would be beneficial to have a more smudge-proof pencil because the traditional way to write in Japan is in columns that go top to bottom, right to left. Meaning a right-hander could smudge the contents of the previous line(s) whereas a left-hander would be resting their hand on clean paper.

      One final thought: apparently there is a lot of emphasis in Japan on holding a pencil the correct way, and the aesthetic qualities of writing. On the flip side, Americans seem to be more concerned (these days) with speed — avoiding handwriting whenever possible, and producing some sort of kindergarten-esque chicken-scratches when forced to. Maybe in Japan, people just take more care to practice good penmanship and produce an aesthetically-pleasing product, and don’t mind being careful to avoid smudging or taking a moment to sharpen up more frequently.

      My response to your comment was like a blog post in itself!

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