Thursday, July 16, 2015

Arigatô, Mr. Nagahara

Nagahara Nobuyoshi 1932-2015
In 1947 a 15 year-old boy went to work at the Sailor Pen Company in Hiroshima, Japan. He continued to work there for 64 years building a worldwide reputation as one of the finest fountain pen nib designers anywhere in the world. Nobuyoshi Nagahara, known as the “God of Fountain Pens” in Japan, passed away on March 11 of this year. This sad news came to me today with the arrival of Stationery Hobby Box (Shumi no bungu bako), issue 34. Following in the footsteps of his uncle and starting work as a boy in the Sailor factory, over the years he became a master craftsman of unparalleled genius, his reputation familiar to fountain pen aficionados all over the world. 


During my years of living in Japan I had several opportunities of meeting Mr. Nagahara at pen clinics and receiving advice about or adjustments to one or another of my several Sailor fountain pens. One might think it out of the question that such a respected craftsman would give ten or fifteen minutes of advice and help to lines of strangers, but that was Mr. Nagahara’s way at all of his clinics. I once asked if he would sign a page in the notebook I carried and with a laugh he took up my newly adjusted Sailor 1911, full of violet ink and dashed off his signature in the notebook.


Mr. Nagahara retired in 2011, leaving his son, Nagahara Yukio to take over his work at Sailor. In the true sense of traditional Japanese apprenticeship, there is little doubt that his 14 years of side-by-side work with his father guarantees that the Nagahara legacy is in good hands.


One of my favorite pens of Nagahara Nobuyoshi’s design is the susudake naginata in which the barrel and nib are encased in smoked bamboo. The process of smoking the bamboo over an open hearth is lengthy, sometimes carried over years at a time. The long absorption of smoke serves to harden the bamboo even more and to add elegant coloration to the grain. The result is called susudake, or smoked-stained bamboo. From this hard and beautifully colored bamboo, Mr. Nagahara made what is called the Susudake Naginata. The nib design is of 21k gold, long in body and slightly reminiscent of the old Japanese halberd or naginata.



Another Sailor favorite is the Sailor Profit 21 with its Naginata nib. What first caught my eye was the striking red and black body with gold trim, though it is not truly a red, more of an orangish red similar to persimmon—eyecatchingly beautiful in its elegant jet black, orangy-red and shiny gold trim. About the nib…One evening in Tokyo I was cleaning the pen and as will happen horribly on occasion, the pen slipped out of my hands and dropped like a missile, nib first to the hardwood floor. Any sharper and it would have stuck up quivering in the floor. I stood frozen in shock for half a minute imagining the newly blunted nib. No question it was badly damaged by the fall, and in a condition that required professional help. Three weeks later Mr. Nagahara was making an appearance at a pen clinic in Tokyo and I took the pen to him for repair. Apparently it was a simple fix for him, and within fifteen minutes he had the pen back to mint condition—and of course, no charge.

The article on Mr. Nagahara’s passing in Stationery Hobby Box suggests that for many, March 11, 2015 marked the end of an era.

1 comment:

  1. Imagine the dedication; 64 years working on pens. (How do you say 'awesome' in Japanese?)
    A great story, and I am drooling over the persimmon model!

    ReplyDelete

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