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The Art of Japanese Paper-making: The Awagami +1

September 24th, 2008 · 6 Comments · black book

Hello there.

Most of our notebook reviews fall into one of three categories. There’s the positive review, with maybe a few hints for improvement. Then there’s the generally negative review, wherein we try to be very specific about the reasons for our disappointment instead of just bashing the product. Usually, these notebooks tried to do something new but ended up coming short of their goal. Finally, there’s the “this isn’t really our thing per se, but someone out there might enjoy this” review. We usually bestow this upon journals that might better suit an artist or quill pen enthusiast than the casual user.

Today, we’re looking at our first notebook from Japan, Awagami’s “+1” pocket journal, and while it fits into this latter category, I’m very pleased to present it to you.

The notebook comes from the Awagami Factory, whose name is a play on the words for Japenese paper-making, “awa washi.”  If I’m understanding their history correctly, the Fujimoro family has been making handmade Japanese paper products since the late 1700s, and some 8 generations later, are still going strong.  Their new “+1 Collection” consists of journals, albums, and desk accessories which attempt to blend traditional Japanese craftsmanship with elements of contemporary Scandinavian design.

As I said, the +1 journal does not fit our usual criteria for a small black cover notebook. For starters, it’s not the type of thing you want to be kicking around or using to scribble random notes. It’s more on the delicate side, something an artist might like for a sketchbook.

We were sent the blackest version of the notebook they have, though it comes in 12 different colors: brown, white, and gray, as well as the zig-zaggy “Spring” patterns and the arching “Autumn” patterns.

The cover material is made of “Syuro” rice paper, which is very unique to the touch. It’s rough yet light, with raised ridges and spots from the cardboard-like material. According to the company, the material was originally developed as an eco-wallpaper, and has since been specially coated to be used as a covering material for the notebook collection.

Whether or not this can stand up to water is beyond me – it seems like a good rain would probably get the cover very soggy. However, if you’re the type of person who can keep a journal out of the elements, there’s definitely a sophisticated, unique feel to it, and the black elastic band actually ends up accentuating the design (whereas it otherwise disappears on a typical Moleskine cover).

Size-wise, this baby is the same as the standard Moleskine – 9×14 cm, or 3.5″x5″ (there was some debate in the comments last entry regarding what a “standard” Moleskine is; I always mean the pocket version, the hallmark release from that company). Overall, it’s thicker, and the cover edges hang slightly off.

In terms of flexibility, the +1 Notebook is rock hard. It’s not bending no matter how much you try, and feels about twice as stiff as the Moleskine. This is without a doubt the most rigid notebook we’ve thus reviewed. This is me attempting to use all my strength on it:

Inside, you get a single black page, then 96 sheets of “75gsm ecru writing paper,” gsm standing for grams per square meter and being a measurement of the weight of the paper.

It’s a nice yellowy cream color. As for writing, here’s a test:

Somewhat disappointing if you write with a heavy pen and write on both sides of the page. BlackCover friend Amateur Economist did a more comprehensive test and found the same results. I think this is too bad, because a journal like the +1 should be artist and ink friendly. Granted, a Sharpie is pretty drastic, but I’d still prefer not to see my simple Bic pen markings through the page.

In terms of lying flat, the +1 starts out on the stiff side, and at first, you feel like you’re being too rough with a delicate object, as if the spine might snap. However, once you get it started, this notebook opens fully flat, and with some frequent use, becomes easier to keep open.

In the middle is a very nice white ribbon bookmark – first time I’ve seen the color used, and it works very well for the design of this notebook. In the back, there’s the ubiquitous rear pocket folder, a bit on the small side and lacking a cover flap.

All things considered, I was impressed by the Awagami +1, not because it met my personal preferences for a pocket notebook but because it was never trying to be that notebook. It’s not a Moleskine replacement, it’s something else entirely: a small portable sketch book with a very pleasing and unique design, all while keeping things simple and elegant. The Japanese Moleskine? Uh uh – no need to insult it like that!

In the US, you can pick up one of these for the very reasonable price of $12 at Hiromi Paper, Inc., located in LA – the notebooks are listed as “Palms notebooks” for some reason (special thanks to Black Cover reader Craig for the link). Japanese buyers can find them at Awagami’s online store, which is available to everyone but US and EU citizens. As far as I can decipher, the price is 1,575 Yen, or approximately $15 dollars.

Coming next week: A fierce Moleskine rival hitting Borders Bookstores everywhere!

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