Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Pull of Mountain Grape

Sometimes it’s the sight of a particular ink on paper that spurs a person to buy a fountain pen, maybe even two fountain pens. My friend Kathleen had no notion to buy and begin using a fountain pen before seeing a page of writing in the Iroshizuku ink, Yama-budo (Mountain Grape). Had the ink been blue, red, green or black she would probably have been unmoved and today still writing her cards and letters with a giveaway ballpoint from the local paint store.

Not long after admiring the mountain grape purple from Japan, Kathleen ordered two fountain pens. Sampling several from my pen rack she decided that the Lamy AL-Star and Pelikano Junior would bring her pen and ink dreams to life. Perfect choice of starter pens, both of them 99.9 percent certain to bring satisfaction. I always sort of hope that a good starter pen will encourage eventual upgrades and add another enthusiast to the fold.

The suggestion was for Kathleen to hold off on buying any ink until she had a chance to sample and play among the inks I have. Both pens arrived with cartridges and the Lamy with a converter as well. The green cartridges that came with the AL-Star turned out to be a keeper, a mostly ordinary green but in the Lamy smooth and flowing; a good standard green. The blue ink in the Pelikano cartridge got emptied down the sink, the cartridge well-washed and refilled with Yama-budo. Had she closed her eyes the smoothness of the Pelikano might have convinced Kathleen that she had an expensive Montblanc in her hand. I have long believed the Pelikano is an exceptional pen and there are few who doubt the qualities of Iroshizuku Yama-budo.

The three purple characters in the photo above are yama budô—mountain grape. I’ve always thought that Pilot does an excellent job not only with the quality of their Iroshizuku line but also in choosing names for those inks. Rather than a perfect description of the colors, the names are faintly poetic, or at least they are in Japanese. The Yama budo is an arresting color, even what some might describe as drop-dead gorgeous, but it does not look much like grapes grown in the mountainous regions of Yamanashi Japan. Not quite so much red in those grapes.

Here are some interesting tidbits about purple—ink or otherwise:

• The Byzantine Emperor signed edicts in purple ink.

• Purple is the color of the highest denomination poker chip worth $5,000.

• Purple coloring first came from a dye made of sea shells—the Mediterranean Murex. It took 10,000 Murex mollusks to dye one toga.

• Purple is associated with Thursday.

• A combination of the warmest color (red) and the coolest (blue), purple is thought to be an ideal color.

• Purple represents the planet Jupiter.

• The English word ‘grape’ comes from an old French word, ‘graper’ which was a tool used to harvest grapes.


  1. Okay. Now I need some Yama-budo ink for my Lamy. How was I to know that inks can be like crack: like you and Chex Mix, almost impossible to sample just one (handful). Still using the Chinese Red which makes the people in my office sit up and think I am an emperor of sorts.

  2. This color is also a sign of royalty. Kings have used it for centuries and Bishops use the color purple or grape. I love all of your colors especially the bright and cheerful ones.

  3. I love my Al-Star and my Pelicano. Thank you for heading me in the right direction. I think I would w4rite with the Yama-budo ink if I had to use a quill pen - it's beautiful, and so elegant. Since we grow grapes, I obviously love the grape references - but I think I especially love the combination of the coolest color and the warmest. Kind of a yin/yang thing. Lovely - thank you!


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America