Review: Nakaya Decapod Mini Kuro-Tamenuri

The Numbers:
Weight: 19g
Length (capped): 129mm
Length (uncapped): 115mm
Length of cap: 61mm Price: USD$650
Body Material: Ebonite with urushi finish
Nib Material: 14k gold nib
Filling Mechanism: Cartridge and converter
Colours: Various

Intro:
Nakaya is the premium arm of Platinum fountain pens. They specialise in handmade fountain pens made of ebonite with urushi finishes. Nakaya is a well known pen manufacturer but not many are able to afford one. More accurately, most wouldn’t be able to justify the cost of a Nakaya to themselves.

I feel this is a pen that picked its owner rather than the other way around. It was at the Nakaya / Platinum Pen Clinic organised by Aesthetic Bay back in August 2015 where I met this little gem. I visited the pen clinic for both the second and third day. I was hemming and hawing in front of the trays of Nakaya pens. I had initially decided to get the Decapod Mini but changed my mind and went with the Piccolo instead because, well… price. I didn’t want to make a rash decision so I decide to sleep on it. However when I returned to buy, the Piccolos were all sold out, with only the colours that I didn’t find appealing remaining. I guess it was meant to be with the Decapod Mini and so I handed them my credit card before I got cold feet. And that was that. It has been 4 months since and the Decapod Mini was never out of my pen rotation. Yes, I love it that much.

Packaging:
The Decapod Mini comes in a small wooden box. The simple box is adorned with Japanese characters as well as a seal. I can read a little Japanese but not enough to fully translate every character there so I shall refrain from the attempt. Lift the lid off the box and you will find the pen kimono as well as a box of cartridges and a converter nestled safely on a bed of red velvet like material.

Gently, as you can, you lift the pen kimono from the box and unfurl the tie. Slowly ever so slowly, you straighten the fold of the pen kimono. With tender hands, you ease the pen from its safe cocoon. The glory of the Nakaya Decapod Mini shines and blinds all nearby. Ok, I might be exaggerating but not by much. No Nakaya is a cheap pen and I would expect no less pomp and ritual of an initial unboxing with a pen of this price. The packaging can easily be re-purposed into a desktop pen holder, so thumbs up for reusing.

Performance:
The Decapod Mini as the name suggests is a ten sided pen. I had opted for the Kuro-tamenuri finish which is black with red accents. Mine is the cigar model so unlike the writer models, it didn’t come with a clip. The ten sides comes to a point at both ends of the pen. The finials are a little protruding but it isn’t sharp. The facets of the pen are rounded and soft to the touch. The urushi finish makes it a joy to run my hands all over the pen. However, it is also a fingerprint magnet. The faceted nature also helps it stay balanced on the table since it doesn’t have a clip to act as a stopper. However, if it gets enough momentum, it will still roll right off the table.

Weight is not an accurate measure of quality. I used to write in reviews that a pen feels heavy and that gives it a premium feel. However that’s not true with this pen. The Nakaya Decapod Mini is a light fountain pen weighing in at just 19g, capped and inked. Nakaya pens are made of ebonite, a type of hard rubber, a traditional material for fountain pens. The ebonite is later coated with layers of urushi giving the Nakaya fountain pens its hand crafted feel.

The Decapod Mini isn’t a flashy fountain pen. It doesn’t have the white star of Mont Blanc fountain pens. It doesn’t have the pelican bill of Pelikan fountain pens. You don’t find a hint of its brand until you uncapped the pen. Even then, it’s just the tiny word on the nib itself. However, Nakaya’s pen designs are usually extremely recognisable if you are familiar with the world of fountain pens.

The pen tapers at both ends to a narrower width. Mine has no clip so at times it might be a little confusing as to which is the cap and which is the barrel. As a rule of thumb, the cap is the shorter side but it isn’t shorter by much. Also, since there is no clip I am not able to accurately determine how many cap revolutions before it gets uncapped. By my estimation, it’s just one complete revolution of the cap to uncap the Decapod Mini. It seems a clip isn’t just a clip… Also, if you are even a little OCD, you might find the lines of the cap not aligning with the barrel at times. The cap has only 4 possible entry points so it is a simple matter to find the right one to get the lines aligned.

The cap can be posted if you are so inclined but I expect most wouldn’t post a Nakaya pen for fear of ruining the finish. My Decapod is the mini version so it is smaller than most pens. In terms of length, it is longer than a TWSBI Mini but shorter than a Lamy 2000. It is almost as long as a Sailor Pro Gear.

Once the pen is uncapped, you will find a grip section that is on the shorter side as far as grips go. The step between the grip and the barrel is rather harsh but not sharp. The threads are likewise comfortable to have your fingers on them. I like the small lip at the end of grip it acts as a stopper for my fingers.

All Nakaya are cartridge converters pens. It is nothing spectacular or special. They use the Platinum proprietary ones. Mine came with a free box of ink cartridges as well as converter. Though it is a boring filling system, I am glad that Nakaya went with this system. This is after all my preferred filling system. It’s easy to clean and flush the pen.

For the nib, the heart of any fountain pen, I had opted for a soft medium gold nib. Nakaya offers a variety of nib options in terms of nibs sizes and colour. As a rule of thumb, Platinum nibs are usually smooth but they have a distinctive feedback unique to them. It is not scratchy by any means but it has a signature feel to it when you write with a Platinum or Nakaya nib. It is that sound of the nib moving across the page in a quiet room. It is the sense of control you have with a pen where you feel your way across the page. This isn’t a nib that runs away from you due to its buttery smoothness.

Though all nibs from Nakaya are tuned to your specification by their nibmeisters, nothing beats an in person tuning. Mine was tuned by Yoshida Shinichi-san Nakaya’s pen designer and nib engineer during the pen clinic. The nib is yielding but not as soft as a similar from Pilot. It has just the right sink and just the right bounce (by sink, I meant softness) for me.

One special note, if you own a Nakaya fountain pen, the design on the nib says “Nakata”, that just means you had a nib of the older design. All the newer nibs has “Nakaya” on the nib instead.

Conclusion:
There isn’t any logical reason to justify the cost for a USD$650 fountain pen. This is especially true if you consider that Nakaya pens start at USD$550. The cost just adds up as you go along. Comparing a regular Nakaya with a flagship model of say Pelikan or Lamy, the cost is a far cry between the two brands.

Consider this, you can get the exact same nib just by buying a Platinum 3776 Century fountain pen. Yes, the Nakaya nibs have been hand tuned by the resident nibmeister but the out of the box experience with the Platinum 3776 is rather similar. Although, the elastic nib options are unique only to Nakaya. (Thank you Jeremy for the information!) Even if you had to fork out more by having a nibmeister tune your Platinum pen, it would not cost as much as any Nakaya.

Nibs aside, the main difference between say the Pelikan M1000 and the Nakaya Decapod Mini is the urushi finish. Yes, a Pelikan M1000 does feel premium but it is, at the end of the day, a resin (or worse plastic) fountain pen. Not that there is anything wrong with a resin fountain pen, however it still feel like it came from a factory. It’s the urushi finish that gives Nakaya pens the handmade feel. Maybe it’s the idea that a Nakaya pen takes a long time to be made, maybe it’s the idea that your Nakaya pen is shaped, filed and tuned by craftsmen. After all that has been said and done, I do feel that my Nakaya Decapod Mini is well worth the money spent.

So far, my Nakaya Decapod Mini has never been out of the rotation. It travels with me to and from work, I do not hesitate to use it everyday. It is a pen made to be used. Urushi finished pens are strong and durable. I have even seen someone knocked a Nakaya pen on the edge of a table while telling a bunch of us that urushi is strong, true story! If you have a Nakaya, don’t baby it. It doesn’t need it, ok maybe baby it a little but use it, everywhere, don’t confine it to your desk. It has been said that the deeper layers of urushi would show through more, as you use yours. I look forward to my Nakaya Decapod Mini taking on its 2nd form. This pen isn’t an investment, I don’t see myself parting with this pen, ever. Heck, I might even add more of these Nakaya to my pen collection.

Pros:
* Delicious feedback
* Beautiful urushi finish
* Understated but unique pen design

Cons:
* At this price, it might be the last pen you ever buy
* Small nib

Posted on February 12, 2016 and filed under Fountain Pen, review.