I’ve heard many people mention their issues with writing in new notebooks or coming up with ideas for what to put in their ever-growing collections of multiple brand new notebooks. Some feel like they’re just notebook collectors who appreciate the look and feel of a new notebook, pregnant with so much possibility. Others are frozen by the need for perfection and can’t bring themselves to write on a page. One writer told me that he purposely mars the first page in every new notebook, just to force himself to get over the fear of the newness and perfection—something he picked up from his dad who dinged with a hammer on day one every new car he bought to get over the preciousness of the new.
This is why I like having stacks of index cards at hand. They’re beautiful and lovely, but if you screw up or make a mistake, it’s just one card. Copy it and throw the imperfect one out if you need to. (Though I find in practice I don’t ever do this.) Because they’re not bound together, you’re also not bound by what you write on one card needing to fit in with what you write on any of the others. There’s no worrying about what subject you’re going to write on this one card tying you to something the way writing in a single subject notebook might. Did this sort of fear exist in the users of 17th century commonplace notebooks, or was it something that evolved in the 20th century with the idea of single subject school notebooks?
My nicest index cards don’t carry the same baggage as my nicest notebooks.
Over the weekend I had the good fortune to hear about a little stationery shop 10 minutes from my house. Baum-kuchen is a spectacular little space hiding over on Lincoln in Altadena with a warm, wabi-sabi (わびさび) charm. The business began in 2010, but opened up their physical location in 2019. Obviously not the most fortuitous time to have opened a brick and mortar location, they’re primarily still online, but have regular open hours usually from 12-5pm on Sundays.
The space, while modest, is rich and well-appointed, as one would expect a fine stationery store to be. I spent almost as much time appreciating the small touches of hardware for merchandising purposes as I did lusting after the stationery, pens, pencils, cases, bags, washi tape, stamps, paper twine, and miscellanea. I think the first three things I asked for prices on were store fixtures. (But with a lush, rare Wabash Cabinet on display, who wouldn’t?)
If you’re looking for the corporate, completist, and cramped feel of something like Kinokuniya, this is assuredly not that. This is a place to luxuriate in stationery and spark some creativity away from the madding crowd.
Of particular note, they’ve got one of the most beautiful, well-appointed, and fully stocked pigeonhole displays I’ve ever seen for Traveler’s Notebooks. They also offer a nice selection of The Superior Labor products to which they also offer customization touches you can easily add on to make your notebook “Truly Yours”.
They seem to have a full selection of MIDORI paper products, lots of Stalogy, and PERPANEP. Also on offer were analog planners like Jibun Techos, Roterfaden, and Nolty along with brands like Classiky, Kokuyo, Kuretake, Mizushima, Postalco, and ateliers PENELOPE among others.
I’ll take a moment to note that this was the first time I’ve ever seen Roterfaden for sale in a physical shop. They truly are lovely analog items with a high level of tactile joy. I find myself needing more thick felt in my life beyond the large grey mat I use for shodo.
This also reminds me that the shop does a fantastic job of providing physical samples of nearly almost every product that you can open, play with, and try out (including samples of most of the notebook paper!) It’s small touches like this that will keep the stationery afficionados coming back every time.
In addition to all the spectacular things I saw, I would be remiss not to mention one of the kindest touches in the whole shop. Front and center in the main room is a fantastic wooden and metal table with several fine chairs. They invite the community to come in with their journals to sit and write with each other.
I arrived on the early side of their store hours, but just after, two people showed up who browsed for a bit, but then sat down to write and try out some of the available stamps on the table in their own journals. Wakako even invited me to feel free to bring my typewriter to sit and write for a bit in the future. Anyone up to join me? With such a nice space, why not use it on a Sunday afternoon to plan out your week or reflect on the week past?
Beyond the warm and inviting space, they keep things in stock in the store which seem to be marked as sold out in their online storefront. On first blush this could be written down as a potential accounting error or maybe delays in updating the website, but I suspect that they’re carefully holding onto stock for their local community to be able to see items and purchase things in person.
As rare as it is to see a shop revel in the idea of analog, it’s even more refreshing and heartening to see one doing its best to strive towards kindness within its own community the way that Baum-kuchen does.
Next time, with money in my pocket
I usually make a habit of leaving my wallet at home on first visits to nearby stationery stores. (Those inflicted with the gentle madness like me will know why.) But I’ve started a list on my pocket notebook with a few things I must have on my next visit…
There are too many things to like about Baum-kuchen, and I haven’t even mentioned the pastry origins of the German-named shop. Some will scream that I’ve buried the lede in this whole story when I mention the following exciting revelation: This fall, Baum-kuchen will be carrying a wide variety of Hobonichi products!!! I’m only aware of a tiny handful of US-based stores which carry or ship Hobonichi (JetPens anyone?), but Baum-kuchen will be one of them. I’ve generally ordered these directly from Japan in the past, but it will be ever so nice to be able to place an order to a physical shop that’s just a few minutes away. I’m hoping they’ll open up the store on announcement day and have a little party to celebrate. If they do, I’m definitely baking them a homemade tree cake!
Back on April 7th on a visit to the Kinokuniya bookstore/Maido stationery shop in the Santa Anita Mall, I picked up an A6 size horizontal Flatty Works case #5460 (forest green, H4.8×W6.8×D1.4in) made by King Jim. It was listed at US$20.50+tax. The case is also available in mustard yellow, beige, teal, and a dark blue.
It’s a nice little minimalist case made with a very lightly parafin-waxed cotton canvas material and a clear plastic front so that one can see the internal contents. The sides of the flexible case fold in accordion-style when not full so it collapses to fit the space it needs. In addition to the primary internal space, the case has a thin internal pocket that would accommodate some credit cards, a handful of 4 x 6 index cards, or perhaps a Field Notes pocket notebook. Similarly on the outside back, there’s an angularly cut external pocket for a few slips of paper, or to place the cover of your A6 notebook while writing. The front has an envelope-style closure flap with a reasonably strong magnetic snap.
I purchased the case primarily to carry my 4 x 6 inch index card “notebooks” as well as a variety of loose index cards and dividers I carry regularly. It has the benefit of going reasonably well with my collection of Lochby waxed canvas holders and covers as well. I usually keep a copy of today’s schedule and priority to do list on top of the interior pocket so they’re easily visible during the day through the clear plastic front of the case.
For the curious, I’ve tried them variously and can verify that the case also comfortably fits the following (separately):
A Samsung S22 cell phone and a few Field Note notebooks
An Amazon Kindle Paperwhite and a pack of 100 4 x 6 index cards
A reasonably thick A6 sized notebook along with some additional pens or simple office supplies. A small Hobonichi would easily fit with space to spare.
The case is small enough to comfortably fit into the back pocket of my blue jeans, for walking around, but it’s not super comfortable for sitting on that way, particularly for long periods. I like its portability and the ability to take out a few cards and work on them using the reverse side as a mini-desk while moving around throughout the day. In some sense it acts like a custom made folder for filing my index cards on the go as a everyday carry. It made for a reasonably comfortable mini-office while on an airplane last week.
The inside top left corner of the case has a small loop that would allow one to attach a string, key chain, carrying handle or other loop to attach the case to a purse or other bag if necessary. This might also be convenient for those who might want to use this case as a bag in a bag, though I’ve not personally had the need for it yet.
Even with only a few index cards inside, the case is easily capable of standing upright in front of my card index/zettelkasten on my desk to take up less space than lying flat. Doing this also keeps all my immediate cards easily accessible while also being ready to travel if necessary.
Thus far, after a few weeks of use and even some airplane travel, it’s shown itself to be sturdy, convenient, useful, and a lovely addition to my daily zettelkasten workflow.
Before I go the DIY route, has anyone seen gummed 4 x 6″ index cards available for sale? I’d love to have a bunch of index cards temporarily glued together almost in notebook form for easy use and portability.
I know there are a handful of manufacturers who make spiral bound versions with perforations for tearing cards out, but I’m looking for something a tad less bulky for putting in a back pocket or jacket pocket. I’ve also considered using binder clips and even book rings, but again, I’m trying to slim the system down.
If there’s nothing great, I may just go with my favorite cards and DIY with some PVA Glue which is often used in book binding and is suggested frequently in crafting videos like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-Wp0sLpnMY. In the end, this may be the best route to allow me to choose my favorite cards in addition to how thick I can make the “notebooks”.
Note card cases, folios, and holders
Similar/related/useful things I’ve come across in this related space:
YOAVIP 4×6 Index Cards Clear Plastic Holder looked interesting, but was a larger, notebook sized version, though still had some useful portability features, yet might be a bit persnickety for regular in-and-out usage.
Has anyone else done this or anything similar? How about wallets, folios, or thin covers? What’s your experience?
I haven't found a digital planner that can properly deal with how often I hop timezones. Sometimes you just have to stick to paper. Most planners are so big that I don't want to take them with me, so I'm very happy I found this stick planner in Japan!
Finally I have a planner that I'll actually toss in my travel bag!
Found the brush pens and paper I was looking for at Daiso Japan here. Got the last of two different kana notebooks they had in stock.
They’ve got an awesome selection! Possibly even better than what I’d seen on Amazon recently. The clerk said their Alhambra location was even bigger, so I’ll have to go there soon.
The Pentel Arts Pocket Brush Pen was by far the best pen I tested today, but at over $20, it was on the expensive side and probably wouldn’t do as well for me at present with my mediocre skills at the moment. I’ll circle back around to it when I’ve practiced my kana a little longer.
2 Kuretake TSF1-10 double sided brush pen with fine and medium points for $7.90
1 Kyokuto notebook with 10 column lines for kana and space for ふりがな (furigana) for $3.55.
1 Tales from Moomin Valley notebook with 7 column lines for kana (with dotted squares) $3.00
(great for little kids and practicing kana)