My trip to the Traveler’s Factory, Japan

It may sound strange, but one of my highlights of last month’s visit to Japan was getting to visit the Traveler’s Factory store in Tokyo. They stock the (formerly Midori) Traveler’s Notebook products that I’ve been obsessing about over the last year, so I was determined to visit their ‘HQ’ and see the various products in the flesh.

I was using one of their notebooks to journal our trip to Japan, so it felt apt to spend some time there on a Sunday morning and stock up on new notebooks and accessories. The shop itself is hidden away on a backstreet in Meguro.

We were staying in Shinjuku, so just hopped on a Yamanote Line train and then walked from Ebisu station – about a 15-minute stroll. There is a closer metro station, but our JR rail passes didn’t cover that and we’re well used to walking around Tokyo. Plus, it allowed us to take in some of the neighbourhood – and it’s basically hipster central! Lots of quirky coffee shops and a steady stream of Japanese hipsters made it fairly easy to find.

The shop is surprisingly small, yet they manage to pack in quite a range of products. It was a little overwhelming, to be honest. It took me a few rotations of the store to get my bearings and find everything I came to buy – as well a several over things I had no intention of buying until I saw them beautifully displayed. I’m a sucker like that.

It was a marked contrast to many of the tech stories I’d already visited in Tokyo. Soft lighting, the smell of coffee and leather and a distinct lack of loud announcements over a tannoy. It was inviting, calming and more like someone’s home. The perfect place to pursue some stationery.

I’ll detail my Japan stationery haul in another post, but in brief, I picked up some notebooks in various formats, a binder to store complete notebooks, some lovely brass bookmarks, some stickers and a great bag to store my notebook. I also got @FrankDJS a few bits and bobs – he was particularly attracted to the Pan-Am branded goods ­čÖé

After paying for my purchases, I got talking to the sales assistant – whose name I never got, much to my annoyance – and we had a great chat about the notebooks, her travels to Dublin (my home own) and our visits to Japan. I snapped a quick selfie with her before taking a few pics of the shop interior. Many had to be discarded due to the number of people in-store. It’s quite a popular little store!

I could easily have spent longer (and a lot more money – seriously!), but we had quite a few things to see that day. I almost missed the various stamps they had by the cash register, but after checking they could be used (and weren’t just for show) I got some souvenir stamps of my visit in my own notebook.

For reference, they also have a store in Terminal 1, Narita Airport in Tokyo, but we flew out of the other┬áterminal. ┬áMaybe I’ll get to see it on our next visit. You can also get their products in both Toyku Hands and Loft stores across Japan, but for me, nothing was better than visiting the real thing.

My battered Midori Traveller’s Notebook

My lovely black Midori Traveler’s Notebook, part of the massive haul of stationery I picked up on our last trip to Japan, has been in the wars. After a few months of daily use (and I mean┬ádaily) it was carelessly thrown into a bag alongside an iPad charger and came off second-best against the plug’s metal prongs.

It’s no longer flawless, but instead looks like it’s had some bargain basement cosmetic┬ásurgery, performed by a surgeon after a heavy night’s drinking and general carousing. But you know what? I like it even more now that it’s not perfect. I was treating it with kid gloves when I should have used it as an object from day one. I think the scratches and general wear and tear make it look┬áreal and not something sitting in the shop window.

Since getting it, it’s hardly left my hand, serving as an outboard wallet, travel document holder, frequent flyer card repository, foreign currency pocket and notebook (of course!). It’s what I have in my hand when I make phone calls, when I walk through an airport or when I’m sitting on a train and I’m not looking into an iScreen. It’s so much lighter and more portable than any Filofax I’ve owned and a lot more flexible than any Moleskine notebook.

I only have single Filofax remaining – the gorgeous racing green A5 original. Am I’m holding on to that as a desk-bound notebook until I’ve used up the mountain of A5 inserts I’ve accumulated over the past few years. Then I think it’ll join all the others on eBay.

Don’t hate me, Filofax-lovers.

But I think I’ve moved on.

A brief Midori update

So, as I excitedly wrote last October, I picked up quite the collection of Midori Traveler’s Notebooks and accessories when I was in Japan. This required a trip to a branch of Tokyu Hands in each of the cities we visited! But it was definitely worth it, as Tokyu Hands stores are treasure troves of things you never knew you needed…until you see them.

So has my Midori been used?

Oh yes. It’s barely left my hand and has been used more and more as time went on. It’s definitely a personal┬ánotebook. Work-related content goes elsewhere – either a large A4 pad or straight into Evernote, depending on where I am and what I’m doing. Everything related to travel, hobbies, list-making and the rest of my personal life now goes straight into my Midori.

I recently “upgraded” it to my main wallet, actually. Every card I use for ID or travel now lives in a model 007 card-holder inside the Midori. A couple of photos above illustrate how they fit in (with post its to cover the crucial details!).

That leaves me with the slimmest of slim Jack Spade wallets in my back pocket, containing just my American Express card, my bank debit card and my passport card.

As I sorted these cards that had been bulking out my wallet, I realised that many of them had been superseded by apps on my iPhone. For example, my Eurostar ‘frequent flyer’ card and a couple of hotel chain loyalty cards. Now shredded, leaving space for other things.

The┬ácard holder I bought in Hiroshima holds its contents very snugly too – when I previously did this in a personal-sized Filofax, the cards had a tendency to fly out in a very annoying way. The last thing you need when you’re trying to navigate airport security! The addition of these cards (twelve in total) has added virtually no weight or heft to the Midori – it’s still very portable.

My kraft paper file, contained in the centre of the notebook has become the place to keep paper tickets like printouts for the cinema and gallery exhibits. I tend to print them as soon as I get the email and put them in the Midori for later use. A mini bulldog clip keeps everything in place and I’ve had far, far fewer of those momentary panics of “where are the tickets?!”

The Midori is a superbly simple, flexible and overall usable little notebook system. I have to say, after less than three months of daily use, it’s the way forward for me. As someone who has spent countless hours lusting after various notebooks and organisers, a stupid amount of money buying them and a head-slapping amount of time abandoning them, the Midori system ticks all my boxes.

So… It means a fond farewell to my remaining Filofaxes. I stumbled across a drawer-full of unused Filofax inserts the other week and so gamely attempted to use my Green A5 Original for work again. It was nice, but insanely heavy compared to my Midori, even my Midori and a large A4 pad. I’m not going to get rid of this, as it’s handy for use at my desk and I’m not keen on wasting all the A5 paper I’ve accumulated.

But my brown Original in personal size is going to be disposed of, along with the unused inserts. It looks gorgeous, but really isn’t for me. The leather is top notch, its design is simple and timeless. But the thing that gets between me and consistent use of personal-sized Filofax is the rings.

I know this is Filofax heresy! But they get in the way of my writing and add weight and bulk I just don’t need. And the A5 models, no matter how hard I work to keep them slim and portable, just end up being a dead loss in my backpack.

So the A5 is going to remain on the shelf in my study, used just for work, while the Personal model is going to find a new home somewhere. Which might be an issue, as I performed some…’surgery’ on the elastic on the inside cover so it could accommodate my iPhone 6s Plus. I’m sure there’s a fellow ‘plusser’ out there who would appreciate this ‘upgrade’, right?

Finally, if you’re interested in learning more about these Traveler’s Notebooks (that’s how the manufacturer spells it), there’s a plethora of resources over at Traveller’s Notebook Times.

Joining the Midori gang

I think it’s fair to say, I went a bit mad buying stationery while in Japan. I had one big item on my list: a Midori Traveler’s Notebook. Once I’d got that, courtesy of Tokyu Hands in Hiroshima, I spent far too much time picking up various inserts for the notebook, as well as stickers, stamps and pens.

I was, in short, in stationery heaven. If there’s one thing Japan does well (and believe me, they do many, many things well), it’s stationery. No matter what you’re looking for, they have it. Paper in all kinds of sizes, shapes and colour, diaries, folders, pens and other bits and bobs. And temptation lies on almost every street corner, with the two biggest offenders being Tokyu Hands and Loft.

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Seriously. Upon entering either store (and I did, on frequent occasions in just a single week), I was like a child let loose in an enormous toy store. By day two of the trip, I was able to do a rough currency translation in my head, and spent most of my time in these stores going “oooh!” and “aaah!” at how “cheap” things were. I filled my shopping basket with glee and little thought for the impact on my credit card bill.

This baby got a *lot* of use!
This baby got a *lot* of use!

Top purchase of the entire trip was, indeed, my Midori notebook. And the many, many inserts I bought for it.

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Now. If you were to google the above phrase, you would be inundated with links to the hundreds (thousands?) of blogs and YouTube videos all about these notebooks. It seems it’s a popular product. To put it mildly.

But what is it?

It’s insanely simple. Basically, these notebooks aren’t notebooks. They’re leather folders which can hold various inserts (notebooks, card holders etc.) via elastic straps. This gives you the simplicity of a notebook, with the flexibility of a loose-leaf organiser like a Filofax.

So what did I get?

I bought a black Midori in the regular size and a brown one in the ‘passport’ size.The regular size has the proportions of a boarding card (remember them?), while the passport size is (you’ve guessed it) approximately the same size as a modern passport.

I confess I did this in a moment of utter confusion, sprinkled with a light dusting of panic. In the outlet of Tokyu Hands where I got my Midoris, they were low on stock. So I had just one of each available to me. Doing the only sensible thing I could think of, I bought both. This wasn’t wanton luxury, as the binders are so much more reasonably priced in Japan. However, I definitely didn’t need both. But I hadn’t decided which size (and associated inserts) I as going to go with.

Over the last week, I’ve decided that the regular size is the one for me. I’m not sure what I’ll do with the passport model yet, but right now, it’s still in its box, safely nestled in a drawer in my study. My Midori is set up with the following inserts:

  • 001 Lined notebook
  • 002 Grid notebook
  • 008 Zipper pocket
  • 022 Sticky notes
  • 020 Kraft paper folder

I also bought a pen loop, which is a perfect fit for the Parker ballpoint I always keep with me. Together, this makes for an excellent and flexible set-up. No diary (this lives in iCloud and is accessible on all my various Apple devices) or contacts insert (ditto). The zipper pocket was excellent for collecting the various tickets and paper bits and bobs I picked up on our travels in Japan, while the paper folder kept my JR Rail Pass and passport as we travelled around.

Much lighter than any Filofax I’ve ever owned. (Sorry, Filofax aficionados!).

Just before we left Japan, I bought a superb passport holder, which fits into the Midori perfectly. A real contrast to the black leather, this insert is day-goo orange plastic and is designed for a boarding card, passport and frequent flyer membership cards.

One of the things I really like about the Midori design approach is that, if you want or need to, you can easily remove one of the inserts in seconds and use it in isolation. So any given notebook can be removed and slipped into a pocket for use elsewhere. And while the dimensions of inserts for the regular Midori aren’t exactly standard, there appears to be an entire cottage industry dedicated to creating and selling replicas on both Etsy and eBay.

That, plus the sheer volume of inserts I bought while in Japan (the top photo in the post only shows what I’d bought on day one!) means I’m not at risk of running out of these any time soon. ┬áBut as I’m planning a return visit to Japan next year anyway, it’s big deal to pick up another suitcase load of Midori goodness ­čÖé

So what is it for? I’ve been using it as a wallet, a travel journal and a place to keep scraps of paper (tickets, receipts and stamps) so far. My frequent travel means it’ll also be where my various airline and hotel frequent traveller cards will live, along with my passport. Work notes will continue to live elsewhere (Moleskine cahiers and / or Evernote), so this is a personal life only piece of kit. Which is fine by me.

So what about my Filofaxes?┬áNow. I have quite the collection of Filofaxes. But it has recently been depleted via eBay, as my new iPad Air 2 doesn’t fit either of the organisers built of iPads (it’s too slim and just flops around inside). I can see the remaining Filofaxes going the same way as they’ve sat on a shelf in my study for months and months as I’ve found individual notebooks so much more flexible (and light!).

I may well explore transforming my A5 Original in green into a kind of “Fauxdori” to carry larger Moleskine notebooks and use this for work, but everything else is leaving the building. They’re unused and simply taking up space.

So. I’m a Midori guy now. Nice.