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The Best Japanese Fountain Pen Brands

Flag of JapanWhat’s so special about Japanese fountain pens? It’s hard to say, but there is a certain something about them. Maybe it stems from the Japanese culture of doing even the most basic things really well, and always trying to improve, even if it’s very gradual.

It’s a culture that honours the artisans and craftsmen who dedicate their lives to a single craft, perfecting it over many years. Western culture, especially in big businesses, tends more towards ‘good enough’, aiming to make a product that’s acceptable enough to keep the money coming in. While Japanese culture is very strong on their methods, it’s just as strong on perfecting those methods. A sushi master may well have spent a decade doing nothing more than making rice and the very early steps of fish preparation, before they’re considered ready to move on to making an omelette, never mind the actual sushi.

Pioneered by Toyota, the Japanese philosophy and process of Kaizen is part of the culture of many Japanese companies - a process of continual improvement. Any problem, however small, should be seen as a chance to improve the overall process, to make things better.

Many Japanese companies are perfectly happy to serve the Japanese market only, with little interest in expansion outside. This can be especially the case in smaller companies, who may have few, or even no, people who speak foreign languages, or have much knowledge of cultures outside Japan. But many companies do want their products to be known around the world, and Japan has also produced some of the most successful international stationery brands. Let’s have a look at some of the top Japanese fountain pen companies.


Pilot Capless fountain pen, 40th anniversary editionProbably the best known stationery company outside Japan, Pilot makes a vast range of pens, pencils and accessories. But that range extends much further into luxury fountain pens than many people realise. Along with the basic, but very good quality, disposable VPen, Pilot are also well known for the Capless (Vanishing Point in some markets). It’s not just a gimmick, they’re great quality, with very nice nibs.

But they also make pens like the Custom range, which includes some of the best fountain pens available anywhere, including piston-filled pens as well as cartridge/converter pens. Some of the Custom models are available with the most incredible selection of nibs, including types rarely seen anywhere else on a modern pen, like Posting nibs, Waverly nibs, and multiple choices of nibs with some flex to them.

An artisan working on a Namiki fountain penAnd under their high-end Namiki brand, they also produce some fine quality pens with hand-crafted artisan finishes, using techniques like Maki-e, where tiny pieces of gold flake and powder are inlaid into layers of urushi lacquer to create works of art.

They may be best known for their almost-disposable gel pens and liquid-ink rollerballs, but don’t underestimate Pilot’s more luxurious pens.


In contrast to Pilot, Sailor are fairly well-known in the West among fountain pen enthusiasts for their top quality fountain pens, but they also make a good range of more basic office pens that rarely make their way outside Japan. For a lot of people who love fountain pens, Sailor isn’t the first brand they try, but for quite a few of them, it’s the last. Once they get themselves a Sailor Pro Gear, they don’t want any other pen - probably more than with any other brand, from what we see.

Sailor Sapporo, or Pro Gear Slim pens, in their 'mini' variantTheir Zoom nib is especially interesting - a nib whose line width varies depending on the angle you hold the pen at - narrower as you hold it more vertically, and broader as you lower the angle. If you’re using a small notebook, they’re probably too broad for normal day-to-day use, but they’re a lot of fun when you want to put down a lot of ink!

The other main thing that sets Sailor apart from other fountain pen makers is the sheer number of special and limited edition pens they make. Trying to collect them all would be a bit ridiculous, but to many collectors, and most users, that’s freeing, in a way. It’s not really feasible to catch ‘em all, so you can limit yourself more easily! Even most of the more obsessive collectors can feel better about passing up on one that doesn’t really speak to them, when it’s never going to be the only gap in their collection.

But Sailor pens are more about using than collecting, anyway. It’s the experience of writing with them that people love, more than just how pretty they are. But they are very pretty.


Platinum #3776 Century Fountain Pen Limited Edition Shiun by Platinum at Cult PensIf some of you are thinking you remember Platinum pens from your school days (and don’t worry, some of us are old too!), that’s Platignum you’re thinking of - a different company, an old British pen brand. A bit like Sailor, Platinum are best known for their high-end fountain pens in the West, but also make a very good range of more basic office pens and pencils.

Their #3776 Century range has pioneered some interesting features, including their Slip & Seal caps, with a spring-loaded insert that makes a strong seal to prevent the ink drying out when the pen isn’t being used. They’re often said to have a bit more ‘feedback’ to their nibs - aiming for a more pencil-like feel, rather than the buttery smoothness most nib makers aim for. It’s a different feel that some people find perfect, giving them more control of their writing and drawing.

They also make regular limited edition versions of their pens, often in some sort of tribute to Mt Fuji or its surrounding countryside. Their ‘five lakes’ series, for example, included some of the fastest-selling limited editions we’ve seen.