There are pens, and then there are pens. This is one of the latter. When I first began using fountain pens they were a simple tool, hopefully a pleasant one to use, but nothing more than a tool. But as my interest grew, and my collection, I began to appreciate that just as words, which are tools, can become more and become things of beauty, so too can pens. In short, I saw my first Nakaya. At the heart of it, like all things Japanese, it was incredibly simple. It was, undeniably, a tool; though a divine one. But it was also a work of art, in itself a thing of beauty.
I spent a long, long time saving my money and in January of 2013 I began to plan. Because this pen was to be more than tool, in itself it was to be a poem. A simple poem to be sure, merely two silvery goldfish hanging still and quiet in the deep dark waters of a moonlit pond. Peace, quietness, tranquility in ebonite and urushi. Pen people with more knowledge of Japanese than I helped me title my poem, name the pen that I was slowly designing. She was christened Silver Wave (Gin nami) before the artist had laid a hand to her.
Through Classic Pens I explained my vision to the artisans at Nakaya and laid out some basic specifications. I wanted a Pikolo style pen, in the ao-tamenuri urushi finish with a silver goldfish roll stopper. And did something very uncharacteristic for me; I told the artist to make the pen as they felt it would best encapsulate my vision, I asked them to be the poet for this pen. And then I held my breath for nine long months.
John Mottishaw of Classic Pens called me when the pen arrived in his hands. It told me it was beautiful and I asked him not to tell me anything else. We talked for a while about nibs, mostly I described the nibs I loved the most. My favorite nib, I told him was an antique Pelikan in an oblique double broad. Finally we agreed that he would grind me a cursive italic from a double broad Nakaya nib with the exact same oblique angle as my beloved Pelikan.
Through some strange alignment of universal forces the box containing my work of art/tool arrived at my office on the second anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood in the Episcopal church. God has a delightful sense of humor.
Now, years later, Gin Nami has become the tool that writes my heart. She fits my hand, with her chunky little section (that my husband called down right fat the first time he saw it), her barrel is light and perfectly balanced. Her nib glides over the paper like a wet paintbrush, leaving behind crisp beautiful script as if she were in fact magical, writing of her own volition, not my poor and awkward hand.
The urushi finish, which is accomplished by painting on hundreds of layers, has depth that will age and change with time, lightening and showing more of the underlying blue/green color as the years go by. The artist’s surprise for me was the section, which he sprinkled with silver powder, but unlike the kanji (Japanese characters) that spelled out the pen’s name on the end of the barrel, the silver powdered on the section was not all added to just one layer. Instead it had been sprinkled as each new layer of urushi was applied giving the section the sparkling depth of moonlit water. The very deepest of the silver particles are so deep they shiny green and blue.
If you have never used a pen with this finish before it is a very different experience that unfeeling plastic. Nakayas are light, and the urushi warms in your hand. After a few minutes of writing the pen seems to vanish, as if it were an extension of your fingers. The Pikolo model is a short pen and very girthy for its size, and for those with very large hands it may not suit as Nakaya cannot be posted (the act of sticking the cap onto the end of the barrel so common in modern fountain pens). Not only would posting destroy the finish on the barrel, the cap and barrel shape make it impossible. I was, at first, worried about the width of the section for it is far wider than any other pen I own. But it has proved to be the most comfortable section of my collection. Nakaya does make longer bodied pens for those with larger hands. But, I suspect, that even those trained by huge modern pens to feel they must have enormous pens (I’m looking at your Montblanc) would, if they give the Pikolo a chance, find it very usable.
And John’s nib work? John’s nib work is sublime. For anyone else Gin Nami might be uncomfortable. Certainly for anyone who prefers a straight nib the oblique angle, which is rather more severe than modern obliques (if you can find one), would take some getting used to. For my hand, she is perfect. The cursive italic grind is smooth as glass, without the hard edges of a crisp italic that make everyday quick writing uncomfortable. John knew that this would be the pen I used to capture the poems that flit in and out of my head like butterflies, it needed to write quickly and well without me having to think about it, and it does.
The oblique cut, added to the cursive italic grind turns the nib into as versatile a tool as a Japanese paint brush. As you change the rotation of the pen you change the width of the italic line. Once you are comfortable with her, Gin Nami, whose italic nib officially measures 1mm, can write big broad brush strokes, or with a twist, put down the tiniest text, using just the tip of one tine. And she writes that way, no skipping, no fussing.
Saving for a custom Nakaya is no small feat for those of us without great wealth, commissioning a work of art is not a cheap endeavor. But were it to take ten years to save for her I would count that time well spent. Those who believe that tools can be so much more than tools need at least one Nakaya in their cabinet.