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Japanese Minimalism: The Midori Traveler’s Notebook

December 8th, 2008 · 39 Comments · black book


Hello there.

The Midori Traveler’s Notebook, a leather-bound journal from Japan, is something I’ve been wanting to review for a quite a while.  Advertised as the notebook for “all the travelers who have a free spirit,” I’ve received numerous e-mails asking us for a review, and more importantly, how to get one.

However, as far as I can tell, Midori products are not sold anywhere in the United States. Repeated e-mails to the company website went unanswered, and I had pretty much given up on reviewing one of these when I stumbled on Just Ann’s blog, which had full instructions for ordering from a Japanese online retailer. I was a bit skeptical, but less than a week after I placed my order, I had a copy of the journal in my hands direct from Japan (full ordering instructions to follow this review).

The notebook offers its own summation on the attached insert: “Each leather cover is made by hand in Chiangmai, a city in northern Thailand. It appeals its own raison d’etre by the simplicity: roughly cut leather and a rubber band with the clasp made of tin. The inside notebook is made in Japan carefully and has Midori’s original paper made to pursue the highest comfortability to write.”

Midori further encourages the owner to “please write down at random what you feel or what you think in the cafe you dropped into during your travel, which will surely be your precious treasure. Besides, you may find a new feature every day, going to work, having this ntoebook in your hand. It may change your life.”

OK, so the English translation is a bit spotty, but I have to admit that the romanticism of this idea got to me. A simple notebook made for trekking across the world? Something that Indiana Jones might carry on adventures to Egyptian tombs and, er, sidewalk cafes? Sign me up!

We’re reviewing the brown version today, though a black version is also available (I would’ve reviewed the black version, except I think it looks somewhat like a check book).

This journal is totally different from anything we’ve previously reviewed.  First off, size-wise, it measures in at approximately 8.5″x4.5″ (21.5cmx11.5cm), which pretty much prohibits pocket travel. In comparison to the Moleskine…well, there really is no comparison.

But that’s OK. It’s one thing to attempt to be a pocket notebook and fail by being an inch or two too wide.  It’s another to never intend to be a pocket notebook, and the Midori fits this category. It feels much better suited to an inner jack pocket, or some sort of travel bag.

The cover, as mentioned earlier, is hand made in northern Thailand. It’s real leather, a rarity amongst most of the journals we’ve reviewed, and feels (and smells!) great. It scuffs and scratches very easily like real leather, but much of this can easily be buffed out. The insert reminds you, “this notebook has a leather cover, which the more you use, the better quality it becomes…The leather quality changes and scratches remain as your memories, this notebook will be more precious than ever to you.” OK, there’s some exaggeration here, but it is both simple and of high quality.

It’s also very, very flexible:

You could pretty easily roll this up and shove it in your back pocket, but fresh out of the box, you’re probably not going to want to do that. It feels like it wants to be treated with a little more respect, for better or for worse. An elastic band comes out of the center of the back cover to keep the notebook shut, and I have to say that this elastic band is damn tight.

As you can see, the leather is very rough (as it should be) on the reverse side. The journal is meant to be reusable, and an elastic band around the spine allows you to easily remove Midori paper inserts when you run out. This is a very good thing, as the included insert only has about 60 pages.

The pages are a nice creamy white color. They’re relatively thick, and don’t bleed ink very easily. The pages that come with the journal are blank, but there are a number of different replacement inserts you can buy, including lined, gridded, and dated pages. Inserts also come with as many as 128 pages.

For a bookmark, there’s an odd elastic band down the middle of the notebook (the loose one; the other is the band that holds the insert in). I’m not quite sure how to use this yet, as it seems a bit too difficult to switch to a different page without breaking it, but I’m sure it’s just something I’m not getting (first time I’ve been stumped by a bookmark).

The Midori Traveler’s journal costs 3350 Yen, or approximately $36 American dollars.  With shipping to New York City, my total came to $48. So the real question is clearly: “Is this notebook worth $48?”

For me, not really. If I traveled more, maybe, but then, I’m a huge fan of the Ciak, which is basically a smaller, thicker, and more useful version of this. However, that certainly doesn’t make this a bad notebook. The quality is great, I like the refillable inserts, and in case you run into trouble with a broken elastic band or a bookmark, you can even buy a relatively cheap repair kit (which also gives you the ability to change the colors of said bands). I think this notebook appeals to a certain notebook crowd who are going to love it.

However, if you are going to order this, just make sure you realize: this is a simple notebook. Very simple. Shockingly simple. It’s a nice leather cover, about 60 pages inside, an elastic band around the spine, a bookmark, and a band to keep it closed. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but when I first opened the package (and wow was there a lot of very romantic packaging), I was a bit underwhelmed. It’s only in reviewing this now that I’m beginning to appreciate it for what it is – a simple notebook. And as I continually expound, the beauty in notebooks, to me, is in their simplicity.

Ordering instructions:

OK, ready? This is actually pretty easy. The Japanese website that sells these is Bundoki.com. The site is only in Japanese except for a short section on how to place international orders. Click HERE to read those instructions – about midway through the page, you’ll find some English.

Summary: What you have to do is send an email with the item #, quantity, and color, along with your name, address, country, and phone number, to acco@bundoki.com. They’ll send you an invoice, which you then pay by Paypal. Once this is done, they ship it out to you immediately – I received mine less than a week after I paid, direct from Japan.

The basic Traveler’s Notebook (brown or black) is here (I’ve used Google’s Translate program to help). The item number is #7063902. You can find the various Midori add-on products, including page inserts, repair kits, binders, and folders, here.

In summary:

Send an email to acco@bundoki.com.

In the body of the email, write:

Item #: 7063902
Item name: Midori Traveler’s Notebook
Color: Brown (or black)
Quantity: 1

Name
Address (inc. country)
Phone

Easy, right? They were pretty quick in getting back to me. If you’re interested, I’d place an order quickly – according to the website, they only have four left in stock. I’d also buy any inserts now rather than later – they’re not that expensive, and the shipping won’t change that much.

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