Six Months With a Hobonichi Techo

The Hobonichi Techo is not an economical notebook. It’s a luxury item. If you live in the US, one of them will cost you $33.50. It’s a good thing my tastes don’t include expensive pens, or else my stationery budget wouldn’t have any room for it.

I’m bringing up the Hobonichi’s price now because I want you to have all the bad news up front, before I go on to tell you what an awesome little notebook it’s turned out to be for me, and how much I’ve enjoyed my first six months with one.

The Hobonichi Techo is the little notebook with a cult following, and plenty of words have already been written about it. (Go on, search for “hobonichi review.” I’ll see you next week.) With that in mind, I wanted to share how I use mine on a daily basis. So this is not a review, but rather a statement of what works for me.

For the uninitiated, the Hobonichi Techo is an A6 size notebook, made in Japan, that’s filled with 450 pages of sweet, sweet Tomoe River paper. Its general format is that of a page-a-day planner, plus some specially formatted pages at the beginning and end of the book. While you can order a Hobonichi directly from Japan, as a US resident, the best price I’ve found is at JetPens (the aforementioned $33.50 with free shipping.)

I must admit that I didn’t buy a Hobonichi to use it as a daily planner. At the time I discovered the Hobonichi Techo, I was looking for motivation to write a little every day, and I wanted a small notebook filled with Tomoe River paper. The Hobonichi seemed like a good fit despite its price. So I bit the bullet and ordered one, and like an expensive gym membership, knowing this thing cost me THIRTY-FOUR DOLLARS has proved to be just the push I needed.

After six months, the result is a hybrid diary/commonplace book/bullet journal that’s been a joy to use. I find the A6 size perfect for a notebook I’m carrying to work every day, and despite all the travel in my bag it’s held up pretty well — though I’m careful with my notebook since I don’t have a cover for it (yet!)

I’ve been fairly successful at writing in my Hobonichi every day. Sometimes I miss a few days, but I don’t beat myself up over it. I just start up again where I left off. Most of my entries end up containing personal observations and musings, so they’re not really shareable or photo worthy. However, I also use my Hobonichi to copy down quotes and passages that move me, and I stick interesting little scraps of ephemera on pages here and there. If you’re intimidated by the “scrapbooky” presentations in the #hobonichi tags on your favorite photo sharing site, please know that you can still get plenty of enjoyment out of a Hobonichi without any artistic talent.

Using a fountain pen to write in a Hobonichi is pure decadence. It’s the primary way this notebook bewitches you into wanting to use it more. (As long as you’re a fan of Tomoe River paper, that is.) I like to mix up the pens and inks I use with my Hobonichi, and in some ways the selection is a reflection of my mood, dutifully captured day by day.

I’ve also incorporated some bullet journal-style task tracking in my notebook. While I keep my master schedule electronically on my phone, I’ve found it handy to jot down to-do items and certain events in my Hobonichi. I put these at the bottom of the page, working upwards as new items are added.

The pages are small, but they’re the right size for the amount of writing I want to be doing in this notebook. It enforces brevity.

As for the various specially-formatted pages included with the Hobonichi, the ones I use regularly are the yearly index, the monthly calendars, and the “Coming Up” pages.

The yearly index pages are perfect for habit tracking.

Careful observers will note some ink bleed-through in the March header. That was the result of using a poorly-tuned fountain pen that was dumping excessive amounts of ink. Tomoe River paper can take a lot of punishment, but this obviously pushed it to its limits. Other than this incident, I’ve not experienced any bleed-through issues.

As I said before, I keep my schedule electronically, but I make use of the monthly calendar pages to track the ridiculous number of softball teams I play on. My phone calendar tracks everything, but my Hobonichi has all the fun stuff at a glance.

It took me a few months to figure out what to do with the “Coming Up” pages that appear before the first day of each month. I settled on using them to track the arrival of incoming packages.

I may have purchased my Hobonichi through gritted teeth (seriously, it’s 34 freakin’ dollars!), but when I flip back through its pages with the satisfaction of having stuck with a daily journal for the first time in my life, the price doesn’t sting as badly.

And yes, I’ve already set aside funds for the 2018 edition.

Swabbing Inks With the Col-o-ring Ink Testing Book

Now that my ink samples have started multiplying like bunnies, I needed a better way to record them than writing them down in a notebook. The Col-o-ring Ink Testing Book‘s been all over the pen blogosphere for the past few months, so I decided to buy one and see if it lives up to the hype.

I won’t rehash all the details because I’m pretty sure every pen blogger on earth has already posted about these things. But in a nutshell, the Col-o-ring Ink Testing Book is a set of 100 small sheets of 160gsm, ink-friendly paper held together by a binder ring.

When it comes to making ink swabs, there are no rules. Everyone has their own method, and it takes some experimentation to figure out what works. After some false starts, here’s what I came up with.

I used a syringe and an X-ACTO knife blade to make the swabs, and a Q-tip to color the bottom edge. Then I used whatever pen I happened to have filled with that color to write in the brand and name of the ink.

To make a swab, I drew a few drops of ink into the syringe, then dropped three drops on the left side of the Col-o-ring sheet. Then I took the X-ACTO blade and scraped it across the sheet, through the puddle of ink. (Similar to using a palette knife to apply paint.)

Next, I dropped one drop of ink below the first and scraped that across with the blade.

The syringe/X-ACTO method really shows off any shading and sheening properties of the inks.

For my first attempts, I used a Q-tip to make the swabs and the results were flat and uninteresting.

Q-tip swab (left) vs X-ACTO blade method (right)
X-ACTO blade method (left) vs Q-tip swab (right)

Then I tried using a paintbrush, but it also produced flat looking swabs. Even worse, it took forever to clean the brush well enough between swabs to prevent ink cross-contamination. The syringe and X-ACTO blade take seconds to clean up in comparison, and the results speak for themselves.

I still need to settle on one pen to use for ink testing. It might end up being a dip pen, or maybe just an easy to clean fountain pen with a broad nib. I left some room on each sheet to draw some figures when I decide what I’m going to use.

Overall, I’m pleased with the Col-o-ring Ink Testing Book. The paper is high-quality, the chipboard covers are letterpressed and look fantastic, and the name is so clever it makes me smile. The binder ring means you can easily organize, and re-organize, your ink swabs to your heart’s content. I wish the paper were smoother (what can I say, I’m a Tomoe River fan) and the $10+shipping price tag feels expensive (but I doubt I could make one of these on my own any cheaper).

If you’re looking for a way to keep track of the inks you’ve tested, the Col-o-ring Ink Testing Book is well worth your consideration.

Three Good Reviews of the Col-o-ring Ink Testing Book:

Hidden In Plain Sight

Yesterday, I was wandering downtown when I stumbled across a bookbinding shop tucked partway down a side street. I had no idea this shop existed despite living here for over a decade. Clearly I need to explore more.

While the shop is focused on binding, repairs, and restorations, they had a tiny selection of handmade journals that included this adorable little gem. Look how it makes an A6 Hobonichi look big!

The notebook is covered in soft black leather, the kind of leather that makes you want to hold it in your hand because it feels so nice.

Check out the colors and pattern on the endpapers.

The binding is section sewn and the pages measure an enormous 2″ x 3″ (5.1cm x 7.6cm). The paper is fairly thick and has a little bit of tooth.

Unfortunately, I don’t know if the paper is fountain pen friendly. I haven’t done any test scribbling — this li’l book deserves to be used for something special!