made in japan

The Cult Japanese Notebook a Strategist Editor Fell For

Update: I’ve used this now for almost a full year, and continue to deeply love it. I just pre-ordered one for 2018.

Starting in about fifth grade, decades before I found the Hobonichi Techo, I took great pride in having an incredibly neat planner.

My Day Runner, circa 1999

This was my high-school planner. A classic Day Runner, identical to the one my mother always carried around in her LeSportsac.

I dutifully kept track of my life in various Day Runners, Filofaxes, and Moleskines throughout college and my 20s, until I got an iPhone and started inputting dinners, weddings, and doctors’ appointments in that, while keeping my daily to-do lists in a reporter’s notebook, or one of the many free clothbound monogrammed notebooks my colleagues in the fashion department got as gifts during the holidays and would very kindly discard in our office’s free bin. It wasn’t until I was editing Leah Bhabha’s ode to her Smythson planner that I realized after years of mooching off my co-workers and writing in notebooks emblazoned with gold initials that were not mine, it was time to buy my own. And that having an actual planner with the days of the week on it would be helpful (I’ve never been able to get my iCal in order.) I loved the look of Leah’s Smythson, but didn’t have it in me to fork over $200 for it. On the lookout for other planners that fit my budget and aesthetic standards, I stumbled into the strange world of people who are ravenously obsessed with their Hobonichi Techo notebooks, and was convinced that I had to try one for myself.

The Hobonichi Techo in all its minimalist glory.

The Hobonichi Techo notebook was born in 2000 from the mind of Shigesato Itoi, a Japanese renaissance man who got his start as a sort of Milton Glaser–esque branding/logo guy, and went on to become a talk-show host, editor-in-chief of the website Hobo Nikkan Itoi Shimbun, as well as the voice of Mei and Satsuki’s dad in Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro. The notebooks became somewhat of a phenomenon, selling millions of copies in Japan, and in 2012, Itoi teamed up with Sonya Park, of the Japanese brand ARTS&SCIENCE, to create an English edition. Since then, these perfect little planners have gone on to inspire Tumblr pages, Reddit threads, and over half a million Instagram posts. After using mine for the past month, I can see why.


First off, my notebook inexplicably came with a piece of plastic toast, which I very much appreciated, as well as this extra-fine ballpoint pen.

Each day gets its own page.

But as for the planner itself, here’s why it’s great. The leather-bound book is hefty and feels like I’m actually holding something substantial (unlike a Moleskine), while still being incredibly compact: It’s little bit taller than my iPhone 6, and about the width of a Kit Kat. (Sometimes, if I have a meeting, I’ll tuck my phone inside it so as not to seem rude.) Each day has its own page, with a little knife and fork for dinner plans at the bottom, plus a fun Japanese quote. (Last week, there was a poetic bit from a mushroom photographer about the art of observing mushrooms in the wild: “The unique lighting and atmosphere of the forest are very important when observing mushrooms in the wild. If you pick them and take them home, they lose their appeal under the artificial indoor lighting.”)

Some words of wisdom from Itoi himself.

The exquisite Tomoe River paper is sturdy, yet after a day’s worth of scribbling, each page becomes crinkled in the most satisfying way. (Apparently, after weeks of use, the notebook starts to expand in order to accommodate the crinkle effect.) A few weeks in, and I can leave it open on my desk without having to use a paperweight. (On the first few days, I used the plastic toast to keep it flat, which was delightful.) The graph paper suggests order without being confining (I always write beyond the lines), and for those who are more artistic than me, the pages are meant to be scribbled and doodled upon; a lot of people paint intricate watercolors on its high-quality pages. All in all: My days are frazzled and life is crazy, but the fact that I can fit everything into this stout and elegant little notebook makes me feel that much saner. And the plastic piece of toast gets me every time.

Note: At the moment, this particular planner is sold out on Amazon, but it’s available at JetPens, and a very similar one is available on Amazon.

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The Cult Japanese Notebook a Strategist Editor Fell For