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Revision2Kuramae, situated along the banks of the Sumida River in northeastern Tokyo, was named for the white kura (storehouses) that held the capital’s rice cache during the Edo Period (1603–1868). Today, pleasure boats, waterbuses, and small craft monopolize the waterway, but during Edo’s heyday, the Sumida was the go-to conveyance for heavy commercial products.

Though many in Kuramae still make a living constructing boxes and containers for transporting goods, the area otherwise seems to have lost the gloss of its polished rice period. Two-storied warehouse structures line the streets, many with flaking paint or rusted shutters, and the area carries the scent of old cardboard and quiet decrepitude.

Recently, however, some buildings have been gutted, redesigned, and revitalized from the inside out. One such place, Kakimori, is a subtle storefront, one you might pass without noticing, except for the fact that it’s packed with hip young customers entranced by, of all things, stationery. Throughout Tokyo, stationery stores have been vanishing, but Kakimori is going gangbusters, even in what seems like the unlikely location of Kuramae.

“Actually, Kuramae makes perfect sense,” Takuma Hirose (36), owner of Kakimori, tells me. “Most washi stationery was processed here during the Edo Period. Because paper is quite heavy, washi-makers floated their wares down the Sumida to Kuramae, where it was shaped, printed with lines for writing, packaged up, and then shipped downriver to Nihonbashi.”

Takuma Hirose is the third generation in his family to work in the stationery business. His grandfather sold fountain pens, and his father, Yoichi Hirose (68), is the president of Gunma-based HiNOTE, a midrange office supplies garage store “somewhat like Staples or Office Depot,” Takuma explains. Yoichi has traveled from Gunma for a visit, and alternates between eavesdropping on our conversation and checking his email.

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“Online stores pretty much put stationery shops out of business,” Takuma says, glancing at his father. “My dad was quick to get into that side of things—and got his business online early—but it’s a struggle against larger firms. My older brother manages that company now, so I thought, why go after such big game? I chose a face-to-face approach instead.”

Takuma’s concept was to sell the romance of “beautiful writing” and customized creativity. “When you come to Kakimori,” he says, “it’s not to buy something, but to experience making something.”

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That “something” initially was a bespoke notebook, the building blocks of which are handmade by local artisans. Customers get to choose from numerous handmade cloth, felt, or leather notebook covers, specialized papers or pockets to put inside, configurations of spiral bindings, as well as leather button, snap, or elastic closures. Kakimori staff then assemble the notebook onsite, while you wait. The satisfying clunking sound of equipment, and the self-contented smiles of customers give Kakimori a blissful aura.

“When I first opened shop in 2010, not many people came,” Takuma admits. “But after the 2011 earthquake, there was a shift in the way people thought. Community and connected stories became important. People noticed that we’re a link between them and local artisans, whom we employ steadily. I think we became meaningful.” Yoichi beams at his son’s words, full of obvious agreement.

Revision6 Takuma has recently opened an addendum to Kakigori—Ink Stand, an elegant laboratory for concocting bespoke ink colors. Takuma’s grasp of the human need for quiet time to create something communicative is at the core of his success. As if to prove the point, Takuma picks a notepad—made in collaboration with local leather-worker Yuichiro Murakami—and jots a note. It reads: “After so long, father comes to visit; I’m a little pleased.” The ink of his simple words leave an indelible impression.

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Kit Nagamura is a photojournalist with 25 years’ experience in publishing. She writes the monthly Backstreet Stories column for The Japan Times and hosts regular programs on NHK.
Most washi stationery was processed here during the Edo Period.