Monday, April 18, 2011

Life Goes On

Look around and you will find a few well-known writers who are, or were attached to their pencils and notebooks for early drafts. John Steinbeck was single-minded about his use of pencils, as was Patrick O’Brian with his fountain pen. In much the same way many of us ordinary folk are particular about what kind of paper and notebooks we use for journals, letters, sketching and sometimes rough drafts of articles and stories. Probably much more than the average Joe I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about the right paper, pen or pencil, taking it as far even as searching out the ‘right’ eraser.

Ask most people and they would tell you that a throwaway plastic ballpoint and a hotel scratch pad serve just fine. But for some of us ballpoint pens freeze up and scratch pads bring on the hives. Not the first time saying it, but for me a day without a Life Noble Note Plain A5 (5.83 x 8.26in) unlined notebook of 100 pages is a day without sunshine. One of the first actions each morning is jotting down some quick notes in a Life notebook. It rests beside the reading chair, handy for scribbling out phrase or passage from a book; it’s full of lists, quotations, excerpts, passing thoughts and phrases, the frequent doodle, the now and then sketch.

Back in November 2009 I posted a short introduction to the Life Noble Note series of notebooks. Some of the same information may follow here but a notebook this fine deserves a recap. Life is a high quality line of notebooks made in Japan in three sizes. I’ve already mentioned the A5 size; in addition there is an A4 (8.26 x 11.69in) notebook and a B5 (6.93 x 9.85in) size. A newer series by Life called Premium also includes a small pocket sized notebook. The paper in all of the notebooks is heavy gauge and is either blank, ruled or graphed. Little hesitation in calling the paper fountain pen friendly. Nine out of ten times the ink and paper work together in perfect harmony. There is the occasional ink that comes out messy and unfriendly, but time and experience will reveal those few inks that are problematic in Life notebooks. I fiddle with altogether too many different inks and sometimes write sloppy pages, but in the end, Life loves most inks.

Most of the past year’s writing has been in pencil, and for that there is absolutely nothing better than a Life Noble Note Plain notebook. Many times pages end up with a mix of pencil and ink, a combination that works well on the cream colored paper. Pencil or ink, Life paper is agreeable.

For years these notebooks were a neighborhood item, resting in stacks at my local stationery store in Kugayama, a little town in western Tokyo. They are still there I’m sure, though I’m not. For a fact they continue to be stock items in many stationery stores in Japan, but are unheard of in American stores and very difficult to get in the US. The Japanese online shopping site Rakuten offers Life notebooks, but shipment to the US would make a $10.00 (A5 size) notebook ridiculous in cost. I keep hoping that someone like Art Brown or JetPens will one day begin stocking these Japanese notebooks. Meanwhile, if you have a friend in Japan have him or her send you a couple. You won’t be disappointed.


  1. Well, you turned me back into a user of pen and ink for most things--even when filling out the occasional blank check. After I started using a Lamy pen it reminded me that we once used pen and ink for home and school long before the advent of the throwaway ballpoint. Have a feeling I will now be looking more closely at the journals available in any of the local stores.

  2. Kiyokuniya Bookstore in NYC carries these.

  3. Hi. I stumbled upon your blog post while searching for these exact notebooks online. Hoping that I may find them on some random Amazon seller's list, instead I found them at some online shops, titled "NoteMaker" ( and "Omoi Online" ( Not sure about the varying shipping costs, but I hope these help. Great blog, BTW!
    Best, TO


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