Japanese pocket pens

I’ve been interested in Japanese pocket pens since I bought my first Pilot E95S from Amazon Japan back in 2023. Fountain pen enthusiasts consistently rate it as one of the nicest pens to write with because the 14k gold nib is smooth and wet and the capping and posting action is buttery smooth, which all add to the pleasurable user experience. 

I then noticed that the Japanese secondhand market was full of different vintage models from different manufacturers and in all kinds of styles. Pilot is the only brand making them now but since the 1960s Sailor & Platinum competed with them for a burgeoning pocket pen market – there was even a popular entry-level brand called Obunsha Teikin who commissioned the other manufacturers to make their designs. 

So, how and why did it all start … and why did the bubble burst? 

A short history

For an excellent scene setting history of pocket pens I’d strongly recommend reading Jerry Yu’s article here.

Basically, the whole concept of the pocket pen came about in response to a change in Japanese office fashion. In 1962, in response to some long hot summers, the clothing designer Kenzō Ishizu released a smart, short-sleeved, collared office shirt with a single chest pocket, called the “Hong Kong shirt”. It became phenominally popular but workers complained that they couldn’t clip their normal fountain pens into the small chest pocket. Sailor was the first pen maker to spot this gap in the market and launched their “Sailor Mini” (“ミニ”) pen in 1963. 

It was designed to be short enough to clip into the chest pocket of the Hong Kong shirt when not in use, but to feel like a full-sized pen when posted. This is achieved by having a very long cap and short body, which means that, when posted, it feels like a much larger pen, almost doubling the length. 

The other big manufacturers, Pilot & Platinum were quick to jump on the bandwagon and produced their own models, the “Short” (“ショート”) and “Pocket” (“ポケット”) respectively. The 3 brands competed with each other throughout the 60s, 70s & 80s before the market started to peter out as fountain pens became less popular and electronic devices becaome more popular.

The “K-Tip War”

If you collect these pens for any length of time you’ll notice that there seem to be an abnormally large number of different gold karat ratings for the nibs. This is primarily due to what Jerry calls the “K-Tip War” of the late 1960s and 1970s. The standard karat rating for nibs is 14k but Platinum decided to launch a premium 18k nib and it proved very popular with users, being a bit springier and also a clearly more expensive and desirable product to show off to your colleagues in the office. 

This went on, going up and up, until pretty much everyone was making 23k gold nibbed pens to represent their highest quality pen in the range. These higher karat models are correspondingly rarer than the 14k ones so they are still quite desirable amongst collectors. 

Nib types

Pilot Elite short JB18 1969-02
Pilot Elite short JI08 (1969-09)
Pilot Elite short JJ12 (1969-10)
Pilot Elite short KI16 (1970-09)
Pilot Elite short KL06 (1970-12)
Pilot Elite short MJ15 (1972-10)
Pilot Elite short NF10 (1974-06)
Pilot Elite short NF24 (1973-06)
Pilot Elite short QE09 (1973-05)
Pilot Elite short QJ10 (1976-10)
Pilot Elite short RF12 (1977-06)
Pilot Elite short TI09 (1979-05)
Pilot Elite short TL09 (1979-12)
Pilot Elite short H480 (1980-04)


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