Namiki maki-e crane and turtle pen

I was made redundant from my teaching job this summer, and was given a small payoff. I put some of this, plus a generous birthday contribution from Mrs TD, to buy myself a special fountain pen – a Namiki with a maki-e design of a crane and turtle. (Namiki is the high-end brand name of its parent company, the better-known Pilot corporation).

I started my collection of pens a few years ago when the always thoughtful Mrs TD gave me a Mont Blanc for a significant birthday. Since then I’ve acquired about one a year: a green Pelikan, an Onoto special Cambridge University edition (see my homepage banner photo of these two pens), and a few others.

I wouldn’t say I’m a fountain pen geek, but I do love writing with a handsome instrument that glides over the paper leaving a glistening ink trail. I like the heft of a well-made pen in my fingers. It’s inspiring.

I have several beautiful Japanese pens, including a red Nakaya ‘Aka Tamenuri’ (the ‘tame’ element means ‘pool’, and ‘nuri’ refers to the lacquer-layering process: one sees the colour as it were through a pool of water) and a black Platinum ‘Kuro Tamenuri’, both made with the urushi lacquer technique – a process that dates back centuries in Japan. The lacquer is drawn from the sap of the sumac tree. The underlying ebonite base tends to discolour and wear over time, so the craftsmen of Japan applied the ancient art of lacquering to create a more durable, beautiful finish.

Highly skilled artisans painstakingly coat the barrel and cap with layer after layer of lacquer, carefully and repeatedly polishing the clear finish, a process that takes months, creating a rich, deep colour and texture through which a contrasting lighter shade is faintly seen. With use this underlying hue gradually emerges more clearly.

Namiki pen boxThis was my first pen made with the hira maki-e decoration. This involves an intricate design of gold powder and pigment being applied by a skilled artist with a variety of delicate brushes to the deep black urushi undercoat layer of lacquer (while still wet) applied to the body of the pen. This production takes place at the Kokkokai artisan workshop in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa province (midway between Tokyo and Mt Fuji).

The workshop was founded in 1931 around the master craftsman Gonroku Matsuda. It was named from the statement by the co-founder, Ryosuke Namiki: as sumo is Japan’s national sport, maki-e is the nation’s light (‘kokko’ in Japanese). With his fellow founder he travelled to the west in 1925 and began marketing this distinctive type of product; a London Pilot office was set up in 1926, and a contract made with Alfred Dunhill in 1930. The ‘Dunhill-Namiki’ pens were established.

The golden crane on my new pen is depicted with its distinctive red cap, wings Namiki craneoutstretched, as it flies over the turtle below, looking up at it. They make eye contact, showing rapport and unity. They are ancient Japanese symbols of long life and good fortune. There’s an old saying in Japan: As the crane one thousand years, the turtle ten thousand years.

namiki turtleThe water from the turtle’s pond is shown as stylised swirling waves curling around the barrel.

The 14K nib in inscribed with the outline of the sacred Mt Fuji. There’s a lovely short film about the pen-making process at the Namiki website HERE

Namiki water signature

The swirling water design with the artist’s signature underneath

22 thoughts on “Namiki maki-e crane and turtle pen

  1. What a beautiful pen. There is something very special about writing with a fountain pen and I think your words ‘ ..that glides over the paper leaving a glistening ink trail’ describes that feeling beautifully. I always think my writing is better when I use a good fountain pen and I suppose I take more care with my writing!. If you don’t mind me saying I think you might be a ‘fountain pen geek’ and why not! You also have a very kind wife – but I’m sure you deserve your beautiful gifts.

  2. Gosh, what a gorgeous pen! I love Japanese design so this one particularly appealed to me. Not “quite” so fond of writing with a fountain pen, though. I went to a Catholic elementary school, and the nuns made us use fountain pens. Difficult enough when you’re just trying to learn script, but the fountain pens were an extra level up. Not sad that I went through it although I wouldn’t have said so at the time. I do still remember actually flunking one exercise. We had to write saints’ names, and one page was St. Peter and St. Paul. I would get relaxed and halfway down the page with my brain on autopilot, I’d start adding an extra ‘a’ to Paul (and almost did it here!). With all the scratched out bits, it was a real mess. 🙂

      • Ha! I’ll stop blaming them then!

        I thought people said “biro” in the UK instead of ballpoint. Did I get that wrong?

        • We use both, Paula. ‘Biro’ sounds a little old fashioned now, to me. Maybe the arrival of rollerball pens heightened the use of ‘ballpoint’ as a distinguishing term. I just checked, after your account of having to write out saints’ names: St Cassian of Imola is the patron saint of pens. He was a third century school teacher sentenced to death under the persecution of emperor Julian the Apostate. He was martyred, according to legend, by being stabbed by his vengeful former pupils who used the iron styluses (styli?) with which they inscribed their wax or wooden writing tablets. Maybe it’s as well I no longer teach…

          • Never apologize for knowing stuff! I will probably always remember St. Cassian now. And I meant to ask before if being made redundant was a good or bad thing? My department at work was going to be outsourced just when I was seriously thinking of retiring. It turned out to be a good thing for me. I hope it’s good for you, as well.

          • Paula: as I said in an earlier reply, I was only teaching a few sessions a week of late, and intended retiring next summer – but it was a shame to finish a bit abruptly – and the degree course was cut, so future potential students will no longer have the opportunity To study the course offered, which is sad. It attracted people with other commitments (children, jobs), being part time, so not your conventional straight-out-of school students

          • Beautiful pen, Simon. And you just made me laugh (“Maybe it’s as well I no longer teach…).

  3. I’m sorry to hear that you were made redundant, and based on the lively posts you share here on this blog, I bet your students are too.
    But I like the idea of your take on the ‘gold watch’, and if it gives you pleasure why not be a fountain pen geek? The world needs more geeks of any kind.
    All the best to Mrs TD…I hope you are surviving the adjustment. Though the reasons are different, redundancy like retirement can be a difficult period, reshaping identity and negotiating shared spaces that used to be private at certain times. I used to love my quiet half hour in the house after I finished work…I’m an introvert, and after a day of wall-to-wall people at school, I needed to be alone in order to recharge my batteries. But when The Spouse took redundancy to work as a consultant from home, he was usually keen to chat when I got home. Conversely, when I retired, he was used to having the house to himself all day…

    • Lisa: you’re right – Mrs TD works from home, and now finds me under her feet when she’s busy, or just used to her own space during the day. It’s not too difficult, as I’d dropped down to just a couple of days working a week in recent years, but there’s still some adjustments to make. Thanks for the kind words.

  4. Like Lisa, I too am sorry to hear than your role was made redundant over the summer. It’s never an easy situation to come to terms with, irrespective of stage-of-life or position. I hope you’re getting used to a somewhat different way of life and schedule.

    As for the pen, it’s absolutely beautiful. How wonderful to such a gorgeous, hand-crafted object in your possession. The decoration process alone must be so intricate…

      • Hi Simon,

        I hadn’t read this entry in enough detail and missed the reference to your redundancy.

        I hope those emotions are easing up. It may be a bit of a cliché, but in this case, it is clear as day to me that it is THEIR LOSS (and also the loss of your students). Best wishes to you both in this new phase of life, even if it began a bit more abruptly than you might have planned.


        Maureen M.

        P.S Have you read “The Art of Worldly Wisdom” by Balthazar de Gracian. He was equally treated a bit abruptly at times, mostly by his Tatar of a Abbot, but he outlasted all his enemies and his book is a classic! : )


        “Let him that hath no power of patience retire within himself, though even there he will have to put up with himself.”

        “Accustom yourself to the bad character of those you must deal with in the market, as one would to gazing daily upon an ugly fac.”

        • Thanks for those warm words, Maureen – very kind of you. Yes, I’m ok about it now, and enjoying the extra time for reading and writing what I want! I’m not familiar with that author; those are cracking quotations

  5. Sorry to hear about the redundancy and hope you’re adjusting to your new mode of living OK. I loved seeing your pen and reading about it, it’s so beautiful, it moved me almost to tears. I am a big fountain pen user, however it’s my trusty Lamys that are used day in, day out, one with a thicker nib than the other, both cycling through lots of different ink colours.

    • Thanks, Liz. I’m so glad you liked the pen. It gives me great pleasure. There’s a tradition in Japan of appreciating the importance of the aesthetics of even the most mundane objects and their function – teacups, spoons, etc. And the relationship between what one writes, the paper, the pen and the ink is an aesthetic one. Each element influences the others, symbiotically – and I don’t think that’s a pretentious statement. It’s just true.

  6. I’m sorry to hear you were made redundant. It’s such an ugly feeling. It happened to me once. It’s nit nice. My role wasn’t needed anymore but it still felt personal.
    It’s nice to have more time though and your pen is lovely. I’m sure you’ll make the most of both – time and pen. Plus you have your wife who sounds lovely.

    • Yes, Caroline, it’s not a nice experience- even though it was the course that was cut, not me personally. And for the first time we’re not constrained by term dates for going on holiday/visits, and as you say the free time is good. Mrs TD is lovely!

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