The Namiki Nippon Art Golden Pheasant is a cartridge-converter fountain pen manufactured by the Pilot Pen Corporation in Japan. Accented by a gold clip and nib, it features the traditional Japanese lacquerwork technique called maki-e, which entails the sprinkling of metallic powders onto lacquer to form a picture.
Pens in the Nippon Art Collection use a specific technique called “hira maki-e”. Hira maki-e is the most basic form of maki-e and is also known as “flat” maki-e, where designs are created by using coloured urushi lacquers and raw lacquer. Once the lacquer is applied, a fine tube is used to sprinkle gold powder onto the adhesive surface. After drying, several additional layers of urushi lacquer are applied above the work and left to harden. Finally, the pen is burnished to a deep lustre, giving the artwork a sense of depth and protecting it from the rigours of daily use.
Maki-e is widely considered as having been developed during the Nara period (AD 710 – 794) in Japan. One of the oldest artefacts to have been decorated with urushi lacquer is the shrine of the jewel beetle at the Horyuji Temple in Nara Prefecture. As more and more temples were built, there was increased demand for urushi to coat statues of Buddha and altar decorations. This eventually developed into more elaborate maki-e techniques. (Nishide, 2005)
As its name suggests, the Nippon Art Golden Pheasant depicts two colourful pheasant birds in flight, surrounded by heart shaped leaves. Since ancient times, the pheasant has held significance in the Chinese and Japanese cultures for its association with nobility, sexuality, fire and life. The bird was a symbol of civil servants in the early Ming Dynasty (AD 1391 – 1527) and adorned the robe of the Empress in the Song Dynasty (AD 960 – 1279). (Welsh, 2013)
The Golden Pheasant (Chinese Pheasant) is different from the Green Pheasant (Japanese Pheasant), the national bird of Japan. The former is known scientifically as “Chrysolophus pictus” while the latter is known as “Phasianus versicolor”. As messenger of the sun goddess Amaterasu, the “kiji” symbolised power and plenty. Its brightly coloured feathers evoke imagery of the mythological phoenix, and it has been used to decorate screens in a palace. (Werness, 2006)
The Namiki Nippon Art Golden Pheasant is considered an entry level model from the Namiki brand. This does mean that the pen is of less superior quality – higher end pens may utilise multiple techniques which include but are not limited to methods such as “Togidashi Hira Maki-e” (burnished-flat maki-e) and “Togidashi Taka Maki-e” (burnished raised maki-e). What distinguishes the more expensive pens from more affordable ones is the complexity of the techniques applied as well as the amount of time it takes to painstakingly decorate one of these pens.
Although every pen of the same name looks the same, a side-by-side comparison between two pens from the entry level Nippon Art Collection will show that there are minute differences between them, as each piece was hand decorated. There is no way to sprinkle gold on each pen identically. The fact that the pens look nearly identical is a testament to the exacting standards that have been set by the Namiki brand with regard to quality control. What makes maki-e on writing instruments even more exceptional is the fact that the art has to be applied to a curved surface. In some instances, maki-e may take more than several months to complete.
In the case of the Nippon Art Collection, each pen comes signed with three Japanese characters for “Kokkokai” – rather than being an individual work, the Nippon Art collection is likely produced by a group of artists working for Pilot. The Kokkokai group of artisans was brought together by Professor Gonroku Matsuda of the Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music who joined Pilot in 1926. Professor Matsuda oversaw the technique and designs of these works for over thirty years.
The Nippon Art Golden Pheasant is a fairly weighty pen which feels cold to the touch. This gives it a comfortable, balanced weight in the hand. The base construction on which lacquer is applied is therefore most likely to be a metal like brass. This is in contrast to the Nippon Art Origami Crane, which is a rather light pen probably made of resin and covered with lacquer.
One thing to look out for when purchasing a maki-e decorated fountain pen is to observe whether the illustrations and decorations on the cap and body line up perfectly when the pen is capped. In this instance, it can be observed that the two peasants line up perfectly and both can be seen when the pen is viewed from the front. This creates beautiful symmetry in the design, and in light of the heart shaped leaves – makes it appear as if they are lovers flying towards each other.
Owners of maki-e decorated products must protect their products from excessive sunlight or ultraviolet rays. Prolonged exposure may cause the lacquer to lose its luster, a process which may be irreversible. Although lacquer can be restored, it is difficult to fully recover the original condition of the lacquer. Namiki recommends gently wiping the pen with a soft cloth or using a damp cloth for stubborn marks, and immediately drying the surface. It is also recommended to avoid contact with acid or ink, as they may damage the finish.
The Nippon Art Golden Pheasant comes in a classy Paulownia wood presentation box lined with red velvet. The box is rather minimal and does not draw attention to itself, as the pen is the primary focus here. The outer cardboard box reveals a certificate of authenticity as well as an instruction and guarantee booklet. The pen is fitted with a 14K gold nib which bears the Namiki logo as well as an engraving of Mount Fuji. As expected, the nib performs perfectly out of the box. The engraving “a-1007” refers to the machine used and date of manufacture – October 2007. Since 2010, the first alphabet has been omitted from all Pilot – Namiki products.
The pen comes fitted with a Namiki CON-70 converter which holds an impressive amount of ink. The push button converter is distinguished from Pilot CON-70 converters in that the top of the converter is black rather than silver coloured. This matches better with the dark urushi lacquer applied to Namiki pens. The only disadvantage of the CON-70 converter is the difficulty of removing all trace of ink from the converter – ink often gets trapped in the innards near the push button.
The Nippon Art Golden Pheasant is a splendid looking writing instrument from the Japanese brand. It is also a classy, mature artpiece that fits in one’s pocket and will attract many compliments. The pen would most likely appeal to the discerning few who enjoy Japanese maki-e works, but are unwilling to pay the price for a premium model personally signed by an individual artist.
– One of the nicest in collection
– Has good weight in the hand
– Utilises CON-70 converter
– Nib performs out of the box
– Very expensive artpiece
– Entry level maki-e technique
– Artwork not personally signed
– Traditional, mature appearance
Nishide, M. (2005). Maki-e Technique. Urushi-Kobo. Retrieved from http://www.urushi-kobo.com/decoration.html
Welsh, P. (2013). Chinese Art: A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery. Tuttle Publishing.
Werness, H. B. (2006). Continuum Encyclopedia of Animal Symbolism in World Art. Bloomsbury Academic.