Visiting Artisans

Nakamura Printing

The third story is about Nakamura Print is the creator of the Ukigami Note Pad from downtown Tokyo.

Have you heard of Grandpa’s Notebook?

A widely known miracle notebook made from the passion of two grandpas and the actions of a grandchild.

There’s a story behind the birth of this miracle.

As a result of a certain customer’s comment, a grandpa who works for a printing office downtown, along with another grandpa who’s well-acquainted with bookbinding, started working on a notebook that opens flatly and horizontally.

After two years of repeated failure, they finally created a notebook where there are no shadows when scanned or photocopied and where one can write even on the outermost margins. They also patented this manufacturing method.

However, although its performance was valued highly, it did not sell well. Several thousands of notebooks were left unsold in stock.

“If only they’d use it, they’d know that it’s good… ” said the grandpa bookmaker, filled with guilt as he saw the remaining stock of his notebooks. “Hand these over to your friends in school for me. “, he said as he passed the notebooks to his granddaughter.

“The artists doing exchanges in Twitter might like these ” thought his granddaughter as she posted the notebook on Twitter.

It then attracted a large number of comments and became widespread. After that, it was featured in the internet and newspapers, wiping out their supplies. It immediately became popular.

Days of trial and error, accumulated experience, and passion gave birth to this notebook… This story left a very strong impression on Cohana’s staff.

The grandpa of this story is Teruo Nakamura, the president of Nakamura Printing.

“If Cohana would ever want a sketchbook made, we’d gladly request Mr. Nakamura to do it. “, conveying our strong feelings with that in mind. “I’ve never done a memo pad before. I want to aim for something new. By all means, let us do it! “, replied Mr. Nakamura, feeling really good.

And thus began the creation of the three-legged memo pad.

The staff went to the Nakamura Printing Office where the Flat technique was born.

▲ Nakamura Printing is located in downtown Tokyo near Itabashi Station.

▲ A wooden entrance with a bath inside. There’s a lingering mood here and there downtown.

▲ Oh, it’s right here! which you can immediately guess from the factory’s look. Some customers also come by to shop.

Mr. Nakamura welcomed us vigorously upon entering the print factory. We quickly started discussing the delicate portions such as the ruling’s thickness and the inside’s color. As expected of a devoted printing artisan, because of his abundant experience, he was able to give precise advice. Our talk proceeded smoothly, and we were able to make arrangements on the spot.

We already felt this on the phone, his sense of speed and his passion, liveliness, and enjoyment in teaching about printing. That miracle was no coincidence, it was because of Mr. Nakamura’s character.

▲ After telling them to open the notebook, “I’m used to this pose~. “, he said, without hesitation.

Let’s get this interview started.

Please tell us Nakamura Printing history.

We started our printing business on Asakusa, 1938. During the previous generation, my father’s time, his custom-made slip prints created via letter printing was well received. My father, boosted by the time of high economic growth, put his all into his work and steadily piled business achievements.

My father passed the baton to my generation. Adhering to my father’s important teachings, we never declined a job and always finished each job carefully without delaying the delivery date. The transition went on smoothly.

However, with the collapse of the bubble economy and the digitization of printing technology, the paperless era was gradually overwhelming us.

And that was the trigger which lead to the development of the Flat technique right?

Yeah. Basically, what keeps a printing factory going is the orders it receives. However just waiting not only gives up the store’s reputation, but it’ll also cause it to go bankrupt sooner or later. With that in mind, I spoke to the employees who were veteran bookbinding artisans.

However, the original start point was our customer’s comment.

Comment, meaning?

When we were selling regular book bound notebooks in an exhibition, a customer’s comment caught our attention. “Notebooks are hard to write in because the center portion floats if you don’t hold it down. “, he said. I was able to let it slide back then, thinking that notebooks are always like that. However, it always kept bugging me.

After discussing it with our devoted bookbinding employees, we decided to do it.

After finishing development, I handed the prototype notebook to a youth preparing for college entrance exams. It made me very happy. Our customers’ brief comments and their happy reaction when receiving the notes are definitely our driving force.

You really cared about your customers. That’s why the Flat technique came to be right?

By the way, this was our first memo pad created through the Flat technique. I wondered if they’d accept it. Is what I felt when I nervously sent contact. I was very surprised when it was happily accepted. Please tell us the reason why you decided to cooperate with Cohana’s Note Pad

As an artisan, I wanted to try new things like when we created the Flat technique. I was thinking about where this technology could be used aside from notebooks. So I was very glad when we were told to create the Memo Pad, where you could write all sorts of sketches! So yeah, it was something like that.

Thank you very much. Hearing that makes me very happy.

After the talk, we’ll show you the site where the notebook was born.

▲ The scent of a print factory’s paper and ink. Feels nostalgic.

“?” I happened to find a strange notebook. Two vertically connected unfinished notebooks.

“Let’s show you how its made.”. They then told me about its creation process. There was more manual work involved than expected.

“Each notebook’s page count is counted by hand like this. ”

▲ It seems that even if he counts the pages by feeling them with his hand, he can still accurately tell the number of pages.

“After pasting, we cut up the notebook with this knife… ”

What really caught our attention was the presence of the “tawashi” placed on the side.

“What’s this for? ”

“The tawashi rubs and crimps the spine’s floating part. ”

▲ Can you tell that the spine is stuck tighter compared to the first one?

It seems that after looking for various tools, the “tawashi” was the one which was fit for the job. We found out that the artisans’ ideas were being used in making such delicate finishing touches.

▲ Each item is opened one by one for inspection before shipping. A scene where you can feel their love for the product.

Going further inside the room, oh, an interesting atlas.

“Atlases and cookbooks are easier to use if they open 180° right? Whenever an idea like that pops up, it always makes me want to bind some books. ”

▲ When binding the atlas Flat style… .

▲ Like this. Certainly, having it open straight makes it easier to use.

Lastly, Mr. Nakamura showed us his hands.

There’s a big lump on the first joint of his right hand’s pinky finger.

It seems that this is the result of flipping pages too much.

“It isn’t really painful. Well, it’s like a symbol of being an artisan. ” Said Mr. Nakamura while laughing happily. He takes pride in surviving the transition of the times as a printing artisan.

Even without large machinery, he finds and uses the best materials from everyday goods.
Not fearing failure, he invented and patented a new bookbinding technique.

He continues his days, taking on new challenges and thinking of new ideas, giving birth to even better products… Through the story, we were able to grasp the essential qualities of an artisan.

The Ukigami Note Pad is filled with the artisan’s spirit and our feelings. We hope that our feelings will reach everyone through Cohana’s products. We left the print shop with that in mind.

Nakamura Printing

A print shop founded on Asakusa, 1938

The Flat bookbinding technique, created after hundreds of test runs, is patented by the downtown veteran artisans.

With their motto of “regularly thinking of fresh new ideas”, they continue to create notebooks.