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Here’s an exciting item to be my first review of 2014:
I’d heard about the Hobonichi Planner on a few other notebook sites, so I was very happy when their US marketing person contacted me to offer a sample for review. 2014 is the first year they’ve done an English-translated version of this planner, which has been popular in Japan for years. From their press release, here’s a bit of background:
In the West, Shigesato Itoi is best known as the writer behind EarthBound, a famous—and famously weird—videogame. In Japan, the copywriter is better known for his online magazine, Hobonichi, and a line of Hobonichi products as charming and unique as the game series itself. Amid each new collection of designer belly-warmers and +LOVE t-shirts and art books is their flagship product, a 400-page daily planner with quotes from Itoi’s long-running column (as well as Hobonichi’s most fascinating interviews) on each page, a precise, grid-based design, and carefully chosen materials.
During the year, the Hobonichi Planner is a repository for to-do lists, stray ideas, ticket stubs, and photos. But just as much work goes into making sure the planner outlasts its final page—the slogan, “Uncover Your Story,” is based on Shigesato Itoi’s hope that each planner will help tell you the story of your year well after you’ve lived it.
More than 10 editions later, each planner launch is an event in Japan, where Hobonichi Planner lovers line up outside stationary stores to buy the latest edition and browse the new designer covers. After a pilot launch in 2013, the 2014 planner is Hobonichi’s first worldwide release. It’s not just a productivity aid—it’s a companion.
First impressions: what an elegant package. It’s about 4 1/4 x 6″ (shown below next to a pocket Piccadilly notebook for comparison), with precise edges and tightly rounded corners. I’ve never seen such a small rounding diameter on a notebook corner before, and I really like it! The cover is a bit stiffer than that of a softcover Moleskine, and has the Japanese characters for techo and a nice little three-key logo. The spine says Hobo and the year.
Inside, you get grey endpapers, and then the beginning of the book lays out a year-to-a-page calendars for 2014 adn 2015, then a 2-months-per-page view, then a month-on-2-pages view for a handy look at the year ahead, plus a couple of months into 2015 for advance planning. Then you have the main section, with a day-per-page layout for the whole year. A “techo” is a Japanese planner that is meant to be used as a sort of combination diary/sketchbook/scrapbook, not just a calendar, so the page layout is not constrained with a strict schedule– you get a nice squared area, with the date and moon phase and holiday indicators at the top, a quote and small monthly calendar on the bottom, and a line at the left edge with a 12 in the middle, I guess in case you do want to divide the page into hours. The outer page edge has the months numbered almost like a thumb index to help you find your place faster. In the back, you get some free-form dot-grid pages, and helpful info such as the typical clothing size conversions, dialing codes and international holidays, plus the fun bonus of illustrated pages about Japanese Sake, sushi, and drinking tea around the world. At the very end, the last page gives you space to write your name and contact details.
I love the design and how much care has gone into it. All the little details make it special– I almost hesitate to describe them all here, because it was such a pleasure to discover them as I paged through the planner. The red ink used on Sundays was a particularly fun surprise. The quotes are from the Hobonichi online magazine, so many of them are from Japanese sources that most of us in the US won’t be familiar with. I was glad they weren’t from all the usual suspects on the usual topics– here, there are insights on design and style, and random funny stories. You can never be quite sure what will be next.
Writing in the techo is a rather luscious experience– the book opens nice and flat, and the paper is smooth and fine. My favorite fine point gel ink and fountain pens went on smoothly and flawlessly. But the downside of the fine paper is its thinness. Showthrough is more than average, and wetter pens can bleed through.
For some reason, I imagine the show-through bothering me less than in might in other notebooks– the whole concept of filling the pages with jottings and sketches and having the two sides blend into each other a bit is rather appealing. Check out the Hobonichi Love Tumblr site to see some of the ways people fill and decorate their planners, inside and out.
Speaking of outside decorations, that seems to be a major sideline for these planners. As is, it’s merely an insert for many users, and the online store offers a plethora of covers, which in many cases add the elastic closures, pockets and ribbon markers than the basic planner itself lacks. Numerous as their options were, I didn’t see any I liked better than this 3rd party offering (available here):
The price of the Hobonichi Planner is 2500 yen, which comes to just under $24.00 at current exchange rates. A Moleskine page-per-day diary is about $22.00, so when you consider the higher quality and fun features of the Hobonichi, I think it’s a great value. If there was any downside to this planner for me, it would be that it’s not my favorite dimensions– I love the 3.5 x 5.5″ size for my notebooks, so this is a bit larger than ideal, though I admit the extra page space is nice. But other than that, I really love this planner. Now I have to decide how to work it into my daily notebook routine, and fill it in a way that does it justice!