I always love it when someone asks if I’ve tried out a particular notebook and it leads to me discovering something that I otherwise may not have found on my own. This is what happened in the case of the Tsubame Note notebooks. An Instagram friend told me how much she loved these notebooks and hoped that I could find one to try, as they’re not readily available outside of Japan. Fortunately, I discovered that Yoseka Stationery sells them at a great price, so I added a few to my cart the last time I placed an order. Once they showed up, I wasted no time in trying them out.
I had seen these notebooks before at MaiDo in San Francisco and had always assumed they were an inferior version of the Apica CD-series notebooks, so I never bought one to try. Indeed, the visual similarities are pretty obvious. The notebooks also share the same sparse, utilitarian design with no extras to speak of. But we’re not here for the looks are we? How is the paper in these notebooks?
Here’s some detailed info on the Tsubame Note notebooks:
- Pages: 30, 60, 100
- Paper Weight: 81.4gsm
- Binding: Stitch
- Page Style: Lined – 7.5mm, Blank, Graph – 5mm
- Size: A5, B5
Ink-handling characteristics (A table with the following properties can be found at the bottom of this post)
- Sheen: High
- Shading: High
- Bleeding: Very Low
- Ghosting: Medium
- Feathering: Very Low
- Dry Time: Medium
- Minimalist design
- Top and bottom page margins
- Watermarked paper
As I mentioned earlier, this notebook doesn’t have many extras. There is no index, no page numbers, no marker ribbons or rear pockets. This is simply a notebook. For what I paid, though, I’d expect nothing more. Speaking of the cost, depending on where you get these notebooks, they can either be a great deal or a ripoff. I mentioned that I picked mine up on Yoseka Stationery’s website and ended up paying $2.50 for a 30-page notebook. That’s cheap! In fact, for the quality of paper you get, this is one of the best deals around. You can also find them on Jetpens for a bit more ($3.80). On the high end of the prices you’ll see, if you look on Amazon, you’ll find similar notebooks that cost up to $20 after shipping.
These notebooks are stitch-bound, so they should hold up well over time. Since they are one single signature, they have a hard time opening and laying flat, but they’re no different in that regard when compared to other similar single-signature notebooks. The paper is a neutral, off-white color, so don’t expect a bright white paper, but don’t expect a cream paper either. The lines are a very light grey and each page has a top and bottom margin that is marked with a darker grey line.
So let’s talk about the paper. First off, it does have a slight watermark on it, similar to that found in most Life paper. I never noticed it during normal use, but could see it when I held the paper up to a light source. If watermarks normally bother you, I doubt you’ll have a problem with this paper. The paper has a smooth, soft feel when touched, but not nearly as smooth as some Japanese paper I’ve felt.
During use, the paper feels nice and smooth to write on. Again, it is not nearly as smooth as some paper that’s out there and it has a tiny bit of feedback, but in general I would call it smooth to write on. It doesn’t feel extremely slick, sticky or dry like it has a coating on the surface of the paper. It is just nice to use.
Overall ink handling performance is impressive. It shows good amounts of sheen and shading. I saw no feathering or bleeding with any of my writing. Ghosting is average and I would not hesitate to use both sides of a page. While most high-quality papers that show sheen and shading have dry times on the high side, this paper has decent dry times.
I am now kicking myself for having passed up these notebooks every time I visited MaiDo in San Francisco when I lived there. Fortunately, a friend took the time to ask if I had tried them and now I know about Tsubame Note. You’ll have a hard time finding a better basic, fountain pen friendly notebook. If you can find them for a reasonable price, you should definitely pick one up.
One thing to note is that these particular notebooks use the Tsubame “Fools” paper. This is their high-end paper and it is likely that most Tsubame notebooks in the United States will have this paper. They do make lower quality, student-grade notebooks with paper that is not as good, but chances are you’ll only run across these in or near Japan.
As I was doing a bit of research for this post, I came across a very interesting article that gives some of the history behind these notebooks. It turns out they have been produced since shortly after World War II, meaning that instead of them being a copy of the Apica notebooks, Apica notebooks (that say “since 1987 on their back cover”) very likely copied Tsubame Note. I would highly suggest giving the article a read if you have a few minutes.
If you’d like a bit more information about how I test papers and notebooks, I wrote an article about my paper rating system.
Tsubame Note Notebook
Fountain Pen Love Overall Rating
Pros: High quality and inexpensive
Cons: Harder to find, limited size and paper layout options.
Value Rating: 4.00 Stars, Cost per A5 sheet: $0.8
Who this notebook is for: Someone who wants a quality, inexpensive notebook with great paper.
Upgrade to this notebook from: Kokuyo Campus notebook
Upgrade from this notebook to: Apica CD11 notebook