I Think I’m Learning Japanese

In my quest to burn through all of my money and leave time at work as quickly as possible, the Polar Pencil Partner and I have booked our next international adventure. This August we’ll be winging it across the Pacific to Japan! As a result, I am taking a pretty big plunge: attempting to learn Japanese.

Trying to learn other languages has always made me feel frustrated and vulnerable, but I think making a good-faith effort to pick up what you can of the local tongue(s) is courteous and respectful when visiting a country whose predominant first language isn’t your own. I bristle when I am abroad and encounter other Americans who so obviously don’t share this viewpoint, and I actually get a little offended when I attempt to start a conversation in the local language and the other party switches to English without at least letting me try. And anyway, from a purely practical standpoint, I’ve found that even if you only know a little bit of the local language, and a local with whom you’re conversing knows only a little bit of yours, you can often meet them halfway and manage to piece together a semi-coherent conversation.

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Pencil Review: Tombow 2558 (HB and B)

The yellow, general-purpose “No. 2” pencil is an American staple. Ask someone who grew up in the States to describe a pencil, and they’ll probably say it has a yellow barrel and a pink eraser. It’s a safer thing to bet your life on than a game of Russian roulette, anyway. As much as we try to brag about how good we are at innovation, we Americans also tend to love it when all of the choices available to us are exactly the same. One time my ex-wife and I flew from Anchorage to Miami for vacation. What did we eat for lunch when we got there? Subway. We traveled across four time zones to experience something identical to what we’d have back home. That’s the American way. Pencils are no different. They’re supposed to be yellow. Everyone knows that.

Other countries, such as Japan, aren’t as stuck in a rut about this stuff as we are here in the States. They’ve got all of these wacky colors like red and green. Japanese pencils tend to be pretty good, and Tombow is a particular favorite of mine, but I can imagine the considerable anxiety and distress many of my fellow Americans might feel if I suggested they give something like the 8900 a try. Thankfully, Tombow has the solution to that problem: model number 2558. This yellow, general-purpose, everyday writing pencil comes in three grades (H, HB, and B) but only one color of lacquer — yellow! — and even has a pink eraser nub attached to the end. Just like we like it. So, I grabbed a few HB and B models (sorry, hard pencil lovers, I haven’t reviewed the H version…yet!) to see how the Japanese take on our favorite pencil scheme stands up.

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Pencil Review: Mitsubishi 9825EW (HB)

When you live in Alaska, you end up spending a lot of time in Seattle. It’s just kind of the way it goes: unless you want to drive for several days through rural northwest Canada, going anywhere usually involves flying, and Seattle happens to be the most easily-accessible major city/airline hub from Anchorage. Flights between the two cities are frequent and — if you’re willing to fly at 3 a.m. — cheap. More often than not, Seattle is the go-to whether you are connecting to another flight to points beyond, or just need to go somewhere to “get outside” for a while. On top of all that, the Polar Pencil Partner’s parents just moved to Seattle from back East, so needless to say we are regular weekenders in the Jet City.

We just took a long weekend in Sea-town, and ironically, I brought a pencil back that I’d purchased there months ago: the Mitsubishi (or is it Mitsu-Bishi?) 9825EW, graded HB. Given the prominence of Japanese-American culture in the city, it just seemed like an appropriate pencil to carry around town, so I sharpened up the 9825EW (a variant of the more traditional 9825 “standard” version) and gave it a whirl.

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I think I’m turning Japanese

I went to Seattle again. That means I went to Kinokuniya again. So, look out for some reviews of Japanese-type pencils and notebooks in the near future (or the far future…my stockpile keeps growing and growing ever larger…)

I’m really stoked about the Section notebook. The paper in it just seems…lovely. I’ll explain more when I write my review! The Mono J pencils I picked up because I eventually want to cover every member of the Tombow Mono family, and then do a big comparison post. Same with the Mitsubishi Uni pencils. And the Guildford pad? I think it’s just kind of funny since it’s all like “hey look at me I’m a hoity toity English flip book old chap…just kidding I’m from Japan!”

Pencil Review: Tombow 8900 (2B)

I’m surprised I haven’t written a review of this pencil sooner. My stash of Tombow 8900 pencils has been languishing in a drawer for a while as I’ve sampled all of the wonderful (and not-so-wonderful) goods that the pencil universe has to offer; but prior to starting this blog, the Tombow 8900 in 2B was one of my go-to pencils. So, yeah, I may have gone into this review with a tiny bit of a preconceived notion.

However, when I first stumbled upon the 8900 pencil, I was a dumb new guy. I knew that Blackwing pencils were great, Ticonderoga pencils were good, and as far as I could tell everything else was garbage. It might have been Tombow’s workhorse “general writing” model that opened up this Pandora’s box. So, now that I’ve been around the pencil block and have a few more notches on my wood-and-graphite belt, I want to revisit it, and see if a more systematic, critical review will yield the same satisfaction I experienced during my original honeymoon period with the 2B Tombow 8900. So, here goes. I’ll try to leave my bias behind, starting with the next paragraph!

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Notebook Review: Apica CG-54 Grid

Good, affordable notebooks are hard to find. As much as I value notebooks — and believe me, I’d be lost without them — there is something that puts me off about paying $15 or $20 for a carry-around, soft-cover notebook just because it’s a certain brand or style that’s hip right now (you know the ones I’m talking about). So whenever I spot a notebook that looks solid, affordable, and cool, I grab it and give it a whirl. This notebook from Apica is a perfect example.

I picked up the Apica CG-54 notebook during my recent trip to Seattle. At the time, I really knew nothing about Apica notebooks, even though in hindsight I’ve found that the CD line has a reputation among fountain pen users. I just grabbed it because it was affordable, looked nice, and wasn’t something I’d found in shops in Anchorage. Even after searching back through Google for some background info on the Apica CG, I can’t find much — the interwebs are awash in information about the CD line, but not so much the CG. So, I reckon this is a prime subject for a review!

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Sharpener Review: T’Gaal Multisharpener

Getting a nice, long point on a pencil without having to use an elaborate or bulky sharpener is kind of a rare joy for writers. On the one hand, there are lots of desktop sharpeners that give a long point, but that would be kinda dumb trying to carry one of those around in your pencil case. On the other hand, there are tons of high-quality compact wedge, bullet, and canister-type sharpeners, but most of those make pretty short points. Among those that leave long points, many of them involve some sort of multi-step process. Of course, if you happen to be an artist with different types of pencil requiring different shapes of point, then things get even more complicated.

Kutsuwa’s STAD T’Gaal Multisharpener takes a crack at solving these problems by combining the flexibility of adjustable point length and the compactness of a bladed canister sharpener in one small package. With the turn of a dial, the position of the blade adjusts to allow for point angles ranging from “fancy long” to “mascara pencil small”.

I picked up one of those nifty-looking sharpeners to test out and see how effectively it manages to pull all of that off!

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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.

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More stuff comin’ atcha

I continue to amass to-review items faster than I can review them (which is exactly how I intend it). Check out the latest additions to the inbox:

You’re looking at several products from Asia, and one from Europe. The Yoobi pencils are an American brand, found in Target, made in Vietnam. Marco and Aishangbi are Chinese brands — Marco relatively well-known, Aishangbi not so much. The Toyo pencil sharpener is made in Japan, and the Bruynzeel pencils are from the Netherlands.

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Eraser Review: Tombow Mono Zero

On payday, I made my typical trip to Blaine’s Art Supply in search of some new toys & review fodder. I have so many pencils backed up to review — and yet, not enough to sustain this blog at the rate that I’m burning through them. So I forced myself to resist temptation to buy the few pencils they have remaining that I haven’t already picked up, and to branch out. I opted for something different and, in my line of work, potentially useful: The Tombow Mono Zero eraser; in this case, the rectangular version.

I have a very high opinion of Tombow products; in fact, the 8900 2B is one of my all-time favorite pencils. On the flip side, I’ve yet to meet a click eraser I actually really like. But then again, this one looks really promising. How will it pan out? Let’s see…

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