Monday, January 4, 2010

Smoke from the Hearth Fire

Even part-time visitors to these pages will know that Sailor fountain pens are a frequent topic here, and oftentimes if not a Sailor pen, then it might be Sailor ink. I can’t deny that I am a big fan of Sailor, but it comes from a backlog of good experiences with their pens and their ink, as well as several helpful and interesting talks with some of their star craftsmen. My several years of using Sailor made (tailor made) products have been very satisfying in terms of quality and dependability.

So, let me tell you about another of my tailor made Sailor fountain pens. I’ve said it before and by now you may even be mumbling, “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” but I’m just about crazy for the Naginata nibs designed and made by Nobuyoshi Nagahara, Sailor’s premier penmeister. One of his fountain pens I haven’t yet introduced here is one in a very traditional Japanese design made from specially treated bamboo. Of course, the nib is not bamboo, but 21K gold in the familiar long body common to the Naginata design, with a plastic head, or connection for the piston converter. It is the body, the barrel and cap of the pen that are made of bamboo.

Bamboo is a very hard wood, well-known for its ability to withstand pressure, to bend but rarely break. There is a process in which bamboo is both stained and strengthened from long exposure to the rising smoke from a hearth fire. This process is called SUSUDAKE and nowadays refers to bamboo which has been exposed to the process. Some will tell you that it takes 100 years to make the best quality susudake, but that is probably for rare objects. In the traditional Japanese home with its irori, or sunken hearth, cooking pots were hung from a hook suspended from an overheard bamboo pole. It was from this that Japanese craftsmen learned to use the hardened, smoke-stained bamboo to make things like sword guards, tea ceremony tools and handles for writing brushes.

At Sailor, Nagahara-san makes fountain pens using such bamboo. These are very beautiful pens, and unmistakably Japanese in both appearance and in the feeling of the aged bamboo.

One of these days when I leave Japan, I expect that my Sailor Susudake Naginata will be a treasured touchstone of my time here, something recognizable immediately as purely Japanese.

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