Hobonichi Planner Review
I never did like agendas. The garishly pastel-colourful, flimsy organizers of ostensibly cookie-cuttered schedules and dates of interest always reeled me in with their promises of true structure and instant discipline before betraying me with their horrendous interfaces (you can’t click anything!) and the revelation that organization takes a quantity of time and quality of patience that eludes me. A year ago, however, I heard of another ‘tool’ that promised everything that an agenda did while seemingly rectifying its flaws. It was well-designed, minimalist and sparing in colour, fit for fountain pens, near-perfect in size, and effortlessly customizable. The Hobonichi Techo Planner was originally created by Shigesato Itoi, a famous video game designer, copywriter, online personality, and author. It is, in many ways, Japan’s take on the daily calendar. A mature and sensible planner that still possesses a distinct sense of design and personality, the Hobonichi Techo is an excellent product that has become a new daily carry for me.
My first impression upon first seeing the Techo in the flesh paper was one of pleasant surprise. The Planner is small enough to fit in a palm, but slightly wider than a typical smartphone. It’s cover is made of thin, textured paper, and features centered, stamped gold characters and a logo. The cover’s spine simply says ‘HOBO’ and 2014, and its binding leaves several vertebrae-like bumps. The back of the Planner is unadorned. There’s a certain simplicity to the planner which belies its modernity, yet with a quality of non-austerity that simply would not have existed in a similar product in the past. The Planner is distinctly ‘this year’, whatever this year happens to be, while still pulling from the past.
The Planner uses Tomoe River sheets, a special and rather rare type of Japanese paper that is known for being fountain pen friendly and ridiculously thin. This planner apparently fits close to 500 pages. Perhaps what impressed me the most was how unimpressive the thinness of the paper seemed; I didn’t notice that it was thin, which was interesting to note. The paper is light, too, and almost translucent. When you write on it, whatever you wrote is visible on the opposite side. This didn’t bother me, though; I was, instead, quite pleased by the qualities that the paper demonstrated. There was little to no ink bleeding, and Tomoe River is pleasantly vanilla to write upon, a far cry from the unnavigable and prolific realm of printer paper and lined sheets. The Planner also opens flat, a thoughtful touch which will probably not be lost on users looking to capitalize on Tomoe’s canvas of enticing paper.
The Hobonichi Planner can also be purchased with one (or more!) of a plethora of covers. These covers allow for a high range of customizability, and emphasize a sense of uniqueness and a distinct personality to each Planner. I received a polyester cover and a PVC/plastic cover for my cover. The cover itself is just as thoughtful as the Planner itself, and has two different-ended bookmarks, a butterfly clasp for closing the cover with a pen, and room for several cards or small pieces of paper and material. The World Folk Patterns Pueblo cover which I received allows for the Planner to be fit in via an insert. I’d be remiss not to mention every idiosyncrasy of this cover. I love the two small tags that say Hobonichi and 2014 in a delightful sans-serif. I love the design of the cover, and its beige inner colours. I also appreciate the smoothness of the polyester, and the ‘cover on cover’ PVC cover, which covers my cover (did I cover that sentence well enough?). The PVC cover allows for notes and papers to be stored, and is just one of a few ‘Tools and Toys’ that Itoi’s site/company developed for the Planner. The PVC cover is subtly textured, and I don’t think it’ll be leaving my other cover for a while.
The inside of the Planner is just as well-crafted as its exterior, and features a plethora of additions and features. Inside, I found yearly and monthly calendars, daily pages, and a section at the back of the book devoted to, among other things, country code numbers, national holidays around the world, and a guide to sushi. I really like the way the dark, thin font looks on the creme paper - it’s calming and minimalistic, but dense and sophisticated at the same time. Little touches such as bi-daily quotes, ‘Coming Up!’ pages for the start of each month, and red-coloured Sunday fonts all add to the charm of the Planner, and further demonstrate just how detailed the designers of the Planner are.
The very page layout of the Hobonichi is something of a small wonder, especially if you’re used to blank notebook paper for scribbling down ideas. A dotted grid with margins allows for the Planner to be used as an instrument of precision, and for creating detailed and structured plans and schedules. The lines are still of a light grey colour, though, and are thus unobtrusive if using the Planner for artwork and the like.
The Hobonichi can accommodate many different forms of media and styles of planning or play. This is where I found its greatest strength: I used it to plan my day, to draw, to jot notes, to scribble, and to test pens. Many people that post in online Hobonichi communities use it for painting, while others use it to meticulously tweak their day’s schedule. I never would have guessed that people would use a daily planner for such a diverse array of activities.
I was also unaware of the benefits of having a notebook that has dates. While this may sound absurd, writing on a particular page intended to be written on for one day connotes a sense of structure, and allows me to look back on past Hobonichi entries as if they are a progression of my life.
The Hobonichi Planner does, however, suffer from a small, yet upsetting, flaw. Tomoe River Paper is smooth, creamy, and thin. It allows inks to behave well, without feathering or any other spreading. There is some bleeding, but it didn’t bother me. What I was surprised to find, though, was just how long it took for fountain pen inks to dry when using it. Some features of my handwriting, including dotted i’s and crossed t’s, were loathe to dry even hours after being written. Pencil marks were easy to smudge, as were entries by other pens. While Tomoe River Paper was smooth, I would have preferred to use a paper which did not have drying times that were so long.
Ultimately, the Hobonichi Planner amazed me. Its benefits are subtle, and it is meant to be used daily. The Planner is thoughtfully designed, able to be employed for a multitude of tasks, and a pleasure to use. The more I used, the more I started to appreciate it, and to feel that it truly belonged to me. It truly does exemplify the Japanese concept of ‘Yo no bi’ - or ‘beauty through use’. If I could change anything about the Planner in its current incarnation, I would seek to reduce the drying time of the paper, and perhaps allow for a smaller, pocket-friendly version to be purchased. The Hobonichi Planner continually and near-constantly met or exceeded my expectations. I think that there are a few staples for fountain pen collectors to consider trying, if not owning. These include a Lamy Safari, a good black or blue ink, and a competent notebook. If you are looking for a daily planner, and are tired of using a typical agenda, the Hobonichi Planner may very well be able to join said stationery pantheon.