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Evolving traditions, a review of the Namiki Yukari Kusadama Herb Decoration

In a day and age of fast consumption and a disregard of times gone by, I have often pondered about tradition and how new ones form and old ones disappear.  It’s those traditions that are dying that I want to emphasise. 

Japan is a country steeped in traditions and with Urushi it dates back to the Jōmon period (around 8000 BC). Which makes this one of the oldest living crafts known to date. It’s those traditions that live on with Pilot Namiki, which is the focus of today’s review.

In the early part of the 20th century, Japan was still trying to get a foothold in the west in regards to promoting their countries culture. Now bear in mind, It had only been 50 years since the passing of the last Samurai of Japan, which in that period of Japan’s history had undergone a massive cultural change. In this era, Japan had undergone a drastic westernisation, with new fashions imitating that of the west, new hairstyles and even thoughts in politics. Until this period Japan had mainly been a walled garden in its outlook on life.

Namiki’s Foundations

Fast forward to 1926 and Japan had been through massive industrialisation, Namiki had set up 2 years previously and their eyes were firmly set to the west. Through various travels in the West founders, Ryosuke Namiki and Masao Wada had approached Luxury Brand Alfred Dunhill in regards to selling Maki-e based fountain pens. This would prove significant in the early days of success because without the aid of Alfred Dunhill one could argue that Pilot/Namiki may not exist today. 

In 1930 Pilot had set up an office in Bishopsgate Street and subsequently started trading under the name Dunhill Namiki. 

Traditions Continue and the main focus

With thanks to the Kokkokai (group of artisans) and some of the best Maki-e artists in the world, many of which are recognised by japans government as National Living Treasures. Pilot/Namiki has stayed incredibly popular and regarded for selling some of the most beautiful pens going. This leads me nicely onto the main focus of this review.

The Namiki Yukari Herb Decoration is a fine example of paying homage to traditions within Japan’s history. The motifs on the cap and barrel of the pen depict that of the Kusudama balls. These motifs are certainly very historical and as explained in the ‘The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, 1002’

  1. Herbal balls: during the Iris Festival in the Fith Month various kinds of herbs were bound into balls and put into round cotton or silk bags, which were decorated with irises and other plants, as well as with long, five-coloured cords; they were hung on pillars, curtains, etc. to protect the inhabitants of the house from illness and other misfortunes. They stayed there until the Chrysanthemum festival in the Ninth Month when there changed for balls decorated in chrysanthemum left hanging until the Iris Festival in the following year. A close Western equivalent is the asafoetida bag, worn about the neck to ward off illness.

Very interesting researching into this tradition as one may find this very topical, especially as I write this review today.

Technology and Traditions

The execution in Maki-e is very interesting, as this is a real marriage between technology and artistry. Due to the high production of this pen, not every single element is hand-painted. Now some may be shocked by this news, others not so and for the purists out there there, they may even scoff. But, hear me out. The price point of this pen in Japan is around 110,000 yen and that roughly translates to about £700, so, one can’t expect to have high-end maki-e for this kind of cash! Of course, this is further heightened due to the price increase in Europe! Still, personal thoughts on that to one side, what we are presented with is an exquisitely beautiful pen.

You’ll notice that each of the Kusdama balls has expertly placed Raden intertwined between the flowers, for me, this adds real interest as you slowly spin the pen. The specs of the reflective material catch the eye and just really make you smile. 

Looking more closely at the flowers, you’ll notice on closer inspection some patterning happening in the background. This is part of the screen printing process, which allows for a consistent design. However, the highlighted edges are hand applied and expertly so, as is the rest of the pen.

This pen is produced by the Kokkokai group and as such you will not have a single artisan working on this pen. That being said all of Namiki’s pens are stunning, but if you want a pen from Namiki that’s painted by one of their many wonderful Maki-e artists, you’ll pay and you’ll pay a lot more. Whether that is worth it? Well, that is entirely up to you.

Well, just how practical is this pen?

Okay a good point, in terms of the practicality of this pen, it’s small. Surprisingly so, now I am not one for large pens, but it did surprise me how slender it is, 15.24mm in diameter of the barrel and 12.7 mm for the section. That does make the section on the more slender size and those that have larger hands may find this unfortunately too small to write with.

Still, this is why Namiki offers different sizes of pens, of course, you will pay a premium if you wish to upgrade to the larger Yukari Royale size. 

One last factor that needs to be mentioned is the pen’s very stylish ball clip and Cap. This is stunning, but one may argue whether maki-e pens should or shouldn’t have a clip. In regards to the cap, you may notice on the inside of the inside is adorned with a felt inner lining.  This means you can cap the pen if you wish, without damaging the urushi lacquer. I can’t comment on the durability of this felt though as I rarely post my pens. 

Writing, what’s it like?

Well, a pens beauty is one thing, but how does it write? Well simply put. Delightful. This pen really is exceptionally well-tuned and the size 10 nib performs as one would expect. Alas, there is no bounce to the nib, which for me is a shame. Personally, I find flex nibs to really help elevate my writing characteristics. But for those that prefer a stiffer writing experience, this will not disappoint.

Two things that I really enjoy about the experience of writing with this pen is the fact there is just a hint of feedback, which helps control the pen and secondly, the nibs grading seems to be true of western counterparts.

In terms of nib design, this is one handsome nib, all of Namiki’s nibs are dual-toned gold and rhodium and are all depicted with Mount Fuji.

This pen is beautiful and is unlike any other pen I have previously owned. The dangerous aspect of this pen is that it will lead you down a rabbit hole of Urushi and Maki-e. Now of course Maki-e isn’t for everyone, but for those that love tradition and the marriage of art and practicality, this is certainly a pen you need to add to your collection.

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