How to Get Started and How to Keep Going

This article originally appeared in the February 2024 issue of CONNECT.

Jessica Adler (Kagoshima)

Japan’s world of stationery is a treat to any and all interested in giving letter writing, scrapbooking, or anything else handwritten a try. I personally found the stationery stores delightful: with their endless selection of pens, to innovative materials that could be used in a journal just for decorative purposes—they have it all! And so, I implore you to consider journaling as a meaningful and creative way to record your time in Japan. I know journaling can sound like a chore, so without further ado, let me introduce you to the wonderfully rich and vibrant world that is Japanese stationery! 

Into the world of Nihon Bungu

My journaling obsession began like this: I noticed my friend using a really cutely designed notebook and made an innocent compliment to her about it. As if waiting for the chance to share, my friend gave me the name of the journal brand and praised its customization options and styles. Out of curiosity, I searched “Hobonichi Techo” and found my way to the store’s website, which was very user-friendly and completely accessible in English! I was pleasantly surprised to find that Hobonichi Techo has a following worldwide, with the English-speaking community singing its praises alongside its dedicated Japanese following. 

After falling in love with a certain Hobonichi Techo journal, I decided that I wanted to try writing down my time on JET. I wanted to challenge myself to complete a journal, something I had never been able to do in my life by this point. Curious to find inspiring ways to journal (the themes are endless: diaries, planners, positivity journals, notes, etc.), I stumbled upon a YouTuber named Rainbowholic, whose focus is cute journaling or “kawaii journaling.” Her videos are so aesthetically pleasing that I was hooked on the thought of creating something similar. Thus, my descent into gathering Japanese stationery began! 

Behold: a typical Japanese stationery store

Finding the right Techo

Japan has a thriving journaling and stationery culture. A prime example is the globally loved brand Hobonichi Techo: every year, the founder, Shigesato Itoi, thinks of a slogan relating to the action of physically writing in a notebook. 2024’s theme is: “[As long as you write,] LIFE is PRESENT.” He goes on to discuss his thought process as he switched from Japanese to English in order to reach out to the company’s international audience. As a part of that audience, I appreciate the thought put behind each yearly theme, and if you want to read more about it, the in-depth article can be found here. Personally, I think this slogan is encouraging, and gives food for thought. For instance, I know I am not alone in my dependency on my phone, but there is an inevitable draw (haha) to writing down one’s thoughts with a pen, and Japanese stationery certainly enables it. 

You can find notebooks and journals of all kinds almost anywhere: a 100-yen store, a convenience store, and any chain bookstore such as Tsutaya. Most often the items found in a stationery store are the popular brand names such as Hobonichi Techo, Traveler’s Factory, and Midori, but due to their popularity and high quality, the prices can add up quickly. I personally love being able to look through the samples provided and get a feel of the size and shape in person, but there are many ways to check them out online as well. You might make your mind up the moment you hold it, or be inspired by the countless influences on Youtube and other social media platforms. It’s easy to fall into temptation when you see a themed notebook too, trust me (and no, I don’t regret splurging on that Moomin comic diary!). However, if you just want to try out the journaling experience, then I recommend browsing your closest 100-yen shop. I recommend checking out Daiso, which has an impressively sized section dedicated to customizing your own planner for a wide range of purposes. They even have topic-specific notebooks like food diaries or travel journals, which already give you a prompt to write about! 

Bungu Joshi Haku – THE stationery fair of Japan

It’s almost dizzying how many options and styles you could decide to decorate your journal with—they even have a special fair just for stationery! Dying with curiosity, I ended up buying tickets for 2022’s Bungu Joshi Haku, and to put it simply, it was amazing. I had the wonderful opportunity to meet one of my journaling inspirations and was even able to sign up and participate in a workshop of theirs. It was an eye-opening experience with massive crowds and a wide range of stationery goods, and I sure shopped! Japan knows how to showcase their stationery—with beautiful displays and tasteful combinations of suggested arrangements, it’s hard to resist trying them out. In addition to the main Bungu Joshi Haku that happens every year in Tokyo, I highly recommend trying to go to one of Bungu Joshi’s countrywide events (they happen all across Japan) that occur year-round. You can find more information regarding ongoing and upcoming stationery fairs here!

The reward of writing

When I first got accepted by JET, I had made a small promise with myself to try journaling my experience while working in Japan. Despite the whirlwind that is moving your whole life to another country, I can say with confidence that I successfully completed my journal from Hobonichi Techo for 2019. I was motivated to pen down my memorable experiences in a “positivity journal” style. And as I began to gather beautiful pens, washi tape, stickers and the like, I became even more eager to journal. This kept up consistently until about 2022, when my free time I would normally set aside for journaling became more full with various outings due to COVID-19 restrictions being officially lifted. Unfortunately, my time for journaling became far and few in between as life resumed a pre-COVID routine. 

However, as I look back through my earlier journals, they truly feel like a time capsule where I can retrace my memories and feelings of the past. Every so often I will dig out a journal to find an entry from years ago in order to recall a past event. With each passage I read through, it makes me appreciate the effort that went into each entry. Now I have the perfect keepsake of my time in Japan! What’s nice is that journaling is very flexible, and there are many ways to prompt yourself if you don’t feel like writing about your day. For example, I sometimes check out Rainbowholic’s monthly journaling prompts when I feel like being a little ambitious with my writing (and decorating). 

For example: 

My attempt at a New Year’s journaling spread

New Years Techo Kaigi

Here is my resolution for 2024, and I would love to encourage others to join me in this challenge: to write almost daily in any form of capacity. Journaling has been an incredibly effective way to unwind and relax when I was consistently writing and reflecting on my daily life, so I really want to bring back the habit of daily journaling. Here are some topics to consider: a favorite game, a single reflective thought about the day, or even a Japanese study notebook. I finally collected my selection of planners and diaries to attempt the challenge: one weekly planner, one comic-style diary (Moomin themed), one larger year-long journal (from Hobonichi Techo) and. . . you get the picture.  

Here is my journaling lineup, or techo kaigi (lit. a meeting of journals) for 2024! 

My gathering of journals for 2024

Browsing through the plethora of choices is easy, but purchasing said journal might not be. There are plenty of styles to choose from, but I would try not to get too caught up in the options. Easier said than done, I assure you, as Japan really has the right idea with LOFT and other stationery stores offering an abundance of themed planners, notebooks, and journals galore.

Tips from the experienced

Here are some tips that I have personally found helpful to maintain journaling motivation! 

  1. Choose a journal you find eye-catching! The more interest you have, the more likely you will pick it up, and the more likely you will try to write in it!
  2. Start with one journal. You can always challenge yourself and add more as the year progresses! Too many places to write can become a chore and discourage you. 
  3. Keep your journal in eyesight; for as they say, out of sight, out of mind.
  4. Try a sentence a day, be it a checklist or a highlight/thought about the day, and don’t beat yourself up for missing a few entries every once in a while. It’s very rewarding to see your past writing. 
  5. I wholly recommend including tickets and pictures. Japan also has a thing for stamps, which makes it fun to collect and add them to your journal! 
  6. There’s no pressure to write something for each day! I usually reflect about my week during the weekend or when I get the urge to write. But it’s also good to keep in mind that the habit will build with consistency!

And with that, I wish you happy journaling! 

Jessica is a fifth-year JET and the current Entertainment editor of CONNECT Magazine. She enjoys creatively journaling about her travels across Japan, and finding inspiration throughout her daily life. Her favorite journal brand is Hobonichi Techo. Lately she has found listening to a playlist helpful for productive journaling.