Thanks to a very kind reader, Elise, I found myself in possession of an assortment of very unusual Japanese planners. I had never seen any of these before. Over the last two weeks, I went through all of them to compare the layouts of each and did a series of pen tests to assess the paper. There are five different planners in this post. All but one of them are standard A5 size. And only one of the planners was sent to me with an additional cover. Through my research, I discovered that some of the companies sell their own covers for these planners but since most are standard A5 sizes, it would be easy to find a cover or use something you might already own.
I’ll start with the planner that is unique in size.
Mark’s Edit Weekly Note Semi A5
I decided to start with this planner because, of the lot, this one was my favorite. From the outside, it is a simple PU pleather with gold foil stamped date (in a nice typeface). The Mark’s Edit Planner – Weekly with Notes is slightly smaller than A5 (197x139mm) giving it a slightly more squarish overall proportion. It has two ribbon bookmarks but the ends are not finished.
The paper is a warm white color (not bright white but not ivory) and the first few pages include year-at-a-glance calendars, project timelines, and a couple pages for yearly planning, topics and review. I appreciate this being a minor feature as I tend not to use this much in my planner.
The Mark’s Edit planner spanned 2017-2018 from March 2017-April 2018 in the monthly calendars and March 2017 through the end of March 2018 in the weekly calendars. Since I tend to stall out on a planner around March, I would really like to pick up the 2019 edition that starts in March of this particular planner as I will probably be stalling out on whatever planner or planners I have about that time.
The photo above probably represents the paper color most accurately.
Next is a series of month-on-two-pages calendar pages. There is a dotted line between each day that can be used to separate personal from professional tasks or all-day activities from scheduled events. I like having the option of splitting it up a bit. There’s a large blank area on the left for “theme” and a checklist area for “to-dos”.
The weekly pages were my favorite part of this planner. Below the dates for the week is the week count. The week itself is set up vertically across two pages with space for three quadrants. They can be divided however you see fit — morning, afternoon and evening; work, family and personal; etc. If you are inclined to block plan your calendar, this format might be useful to you too. I often just have things that have to be done around meetings that are scheduled for blocks of an hour at a time.
The rest of the two pages is open for notes. I envision these to be a combination of meeting notes, to-do lists, groceries, project ideas, etc. Then at the bottom is a horizontal timeline of the month indicating with a grey highlight where this week falls.
The last half of the book is free space for additional notes. (This photo is a bit too yellow-y for some reason and starts the trend of slightly-too-yellow photos.) There are roughly 126 pages in the back for additional notes. Writing a page-a-day, that’s almost six months of journaling. Even at a half a page per day, that would be an ambitious goal and would be a year’s worth of journaling or personal record keeping.
The paper stood up to a bevy of pen tests with no issues. There was no feathering and very little show through. The planner had no bleed through at all.
There are refill versions of this insert as well as beautiful cover options that rival Hobonichi. At the moment, the only downside I see with this planner is figuring out how to get a hold of one. If you find a vendor who is selling these planners to the US market, let me know!
JIYU-Style U-Line Four Seasons (Naked) Planner
The JIYU-Style U-Line Four Seasons Planner is a thin booklet-style planner. It breaks the year down into four, quarterly booklets. The cover is stiff chipboard with a wrapped sticker on the spine with the date. The simplicity makes it perfect for someone looking for minimalist design or someone who wants to personalize their planner with their own look. The chipboard would look awesome with stickers and paint pen artwork.
The paper in this planner is most likely Tomoe River as it has the tissue-like feeling. The website description of “Tomo eriba” makes me think I am correct in my assumption as well.
The first pages include year-at-a-glance for the current and coming year, then some open notes pages with 4mm dotted grid (its grid but with dotted lines, not solid).
Then start the week-on-two-pages. The notation next to the month number is the week number and the day count for each week. I never thought to keep a tally of the days but if you’re working on a 365 project, having the day count at the top of your planner might come in handy. Down the left hand side is the hourly markings from 06-24:00. After each weekly spread is a page-a-day for each day plus an extra page following Sunday.
I think this would make a good planner for someone looking to combine some page-a-day journaling with their weekly planning. The compact size of the quarterly planning layout makes it a bit less cumbersome than carrying around a whole year.
Obviously, the paper loved all the fountain pens I threw at it. Some of the rollerball and brush pens took a bit longer to dry than usual and pencil was a bit lighter than on other papers.
From the reverse, there’s more show through than with Mark’s Edit but no bleed though either. This is another very interesting planner but ordering it from their website might be tricky.
Discover Double Diary and Discover Diary (A5)
The Discover Diary (A5) was the only planner that I received that had a cover included with it. I also received two versions of the planner — a week-on-one-page plus notes version and a vertical week (on 2.5pages) version plus the navy embossed lizard cover and an additional notes insert.
The cover included pockets in the front and back to slide the planner into as well as a business card slot in the front and an extra secretary pocket in the back plus a pen loop. The planners themselves have heavyweight card stock covers in black with a taped spine binding. Both planners have two, unfinished ribbon bookmarks. Initially, when I aw the design, I thought these might be Midori planners because the ribbon bookmarks are glued to the outside of the spine of the books like Midori notebooks and the paper is a similar color and texture. It was only upon closer inspection that I realized they were something else entirely.
Inside the front were some notes about how to use the planners. While the notes are written in Japanese, I do appreciate seeing how someone envisions a planner being used, even if I can’t read exactly what they mean.
The paper is a bit toothier than the Mark’s Edit but is also a creamy ivory color. Both planners start in January of 2018 and run a standard calendar year.
The monthly pages feature minute 2.5mm grids with dotted lines on them. The grid on the left is 5mm. There are little stars next to each day that can be filled in if the day is of specific significance.
The week-on-a-page is pretty similar to a lot of other planners I’ve seen. The far right side of the page has a line drawn down it and a note at the top that says “idea seeds” which I find charming. There are tick marks along the top and bottom of each day and a note at the top of the page that says “time line” which I’ve not seen before. Rather than writing the day vertically, I think they are envisioning the day being mapped vertically along the tick marks. Curious.
The right hand page of each week is open for notes which is pretty common in most week-on-a-page planners. The grid is 5mm and the month is tabbed along the edge in black.
In the vertical week calendar (called the Double Diary in the inside cover), Monday through Friday is on the first two pages and Saturday and Sunday are on the next page with the last page open for notes like the week-on-a-page. The timeline for the vertical calendar is from 05-24:00 with dots for every two hour increments. At the bottom is space for the “idea seeds”. For both the weekdays and weekends, there is a column down the left for a to-do list. If you have a life that’s as busy on the weekends as during the week or you work weekend shifts as well as weekday shifts, this is a planner that might be well-suited to your needs.
There is also a set of four stars across the top of each day. I like that you can give your day a star rating. Was today a 4-star day? You decide.
The photo above are the pen tests in the week-one-one-page planner.
There is a little bleed through with the week-on-a-page paper but no feathering issues and all the finer nibs and rollerball and gel pens behaved just fine.
Above is the pen tests from the Vertical Week planner. The paper in this planner feels like Tomoe River and is lighter than the paper in the week-on-a-page planner. Both planners were for the 2018 calendar year so I don’t know if they utilized different weights of paper in order to fit more sheets into the vertical week since each week occupies four pages instead of just two or if it was a specific decision at a design and production level.
The vertical week paper had no bleed through issues but a little show through. If my assumption about the paper being Tomoe River is correct, that is to be expected.
The paper in the notebook that was included was very similar to the paper in the Vertical Week planner and has 8mm line spacing.
I continue to struggle in my search to find an easy way to order any of these planners. That’s really the only downside that I’m finding to most of these planners.
United Bees A5 FreeField V Type Planner
The United Bees A5 FreeField V Type Planner is a card stock cover, A5 planner with an embossed (to look like leather) vinyl cover. This planner also has two, unfinished ribbon bookmarks and features smooth, soft ivory paper.
This planner has, by far, the best typography featuring crisp Futura and fine, minimal lines. Aesthetically, and layout-wise, its second only to the Mark’s Edit planner for me. I mean, would you look at that month-on-two-pages? Makes my designer heart weep a little. Massimo Vignelli would wholeheartedly approve.
The week-on-two-pages features a similarly abbreviated boxes across the top of two pages for tasks, meetings and to-do’s and then the rest of the space is open for notes, doodles, lists and sketches. The grid is 5mm dotted line grid and on the far left is space for a list. At the top is the weekly date and week number.
Along the edge is a color coded tab for the months.
In pen tests, the only thing I discovered was that this paper got some bleed through and show through with fountain pen ink. If you are willing to stick to gel, felt tip and maybe the occasional rollerball, this is a pretty awesome planner.
However, like so many of these Japanese planners, this one would prove difficult to purchase in the US and even on the manufacturer’s site, its sold out in every variation at present. It appears that the United Bees planners have a following like Hobonichi.
Nakabayashi A5 Grid Diary
The Nakabayashi A5 White Grid Diary came with a heavyweight plastic slip cover over an informational paper wrap. Under the paper wrap was a plain glossy, white card stock cover with exposed tape binding. As I was loaned the planner, I didn’t remove the informational wrap but if I were to own and use this planner, I certainly would as the plain cover would lend itself to either a minimal aesthetic or a canvas for stickers, a decorative paper wrap, doodles, etc. Me? I would not be able to leave a plain, white cover alone for more than about 30 seconds.
The Grid Diary includes two ribbon bookmarks like all the other planners only it is the only planner to have a sky blue and white bookmark instead of the grey and black. And yes, the ends were unfinished. I’m telling you, invest in a bottle of Dritz Fray Check. If only for the endless ribbon bookmarks that will cross your path over the years.
The Grid Diary is the planner with whitest, white pages and its noted-on-the-cover 2.5mm grid is printed in non-photo blue. The blue lines may make the paper seem even whiter. All the text is printed in black with Sundays and holidays (Japanese) called out in red. There is a year plan and several monthly planning pages in the front of the book. As this is from 2018, the monthly calendars started in October and the weekly calendars started in December so that planner could get a jump start on the new year.
The month-on-two-pages is simple with space left on the left for notes or a list… it’s up to you. It’s very minimal and easy to read.
The week-on-a-page with notes is a fairly standard layout and includes the week number in the upper right hand corner.
On the right hand side is a full page open for notes, doodling, journaling and the like.
In pen tests, the smooth white paper held up well. There was no feathering or bleed through and a minimal amount of show through.
If you write very small, the Nakabayashi Grid Diary might be the planner to seek out.
All-in-all, this planner experiment made me realize that there are more planners in Japan besides the Hobonichi and the Jibun Techo and many of them may be worth the trouble to purchase them via an online courier service. The Mark’s Edit and United Bees were my personal favorites but in investigating each of the manufacturers’ websites, it became evident that each company offered many varieties and sizes of their planners that might be more suited to your needs. Not to mention covers, refills and other accoutrements that whet the well-heeled stationer’s appetite.
Special thanks to reader Elise for loaning us all these planners.
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