This pad of writing paper has been on my wish list for a long time. I don’t write letters that often, but when I do, it’s amazing how difficult it is to find paper that’s just right for that task – but I think Life Bank Paper comes close. It’s premium paper but with somewhat different characteristics compared to other good paper from Japan I’ve used so far. It’s slightly thicker, with an almost elastic strength to it, and a smooth surface that doesn’t feel like it’s the result of coating but rather of fine milling and pressing.
Why is it called “bank paper”? The term evidently derives from the special paper made exclusively for Mitsubishi Bank (currently renamed The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, after a series of M&As) by Mitsubishi Paper Mills. (They both belong to the Mitsubishi industrial group, as do companies like Mitsubishi Motors and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries; Mitsubishi Pencils does not. The latter is a completely unaffiliated, independent company that happens to have the same name.) The bank required good, sturdy paper for long-term recordkeeping, that could withstand all manner of hand- and typewriting, and repeated handling. And this was the answer. It seems like this paper went out of production 20 years ago, after which, according to stationery journalist Tsuchihashi-san, Life resurrected this product, circa 2007.
The pink first page is actually a blotter; another hint that the paper is fountain pen friendly.
The cream-colored paper has a watermark, “Three Diamonds”. The original bank paper produced by Mitsubishi Paper Mills had this watermark – “Mitsubishi (三菱)” means “three diamonds”, the “diamond” in question referring not to the precious stone but to the geometrical shape of the rhombus; that’s why the Mitsubishi logo consists of three lozenges joined together. (BTW this detail also features in the historical thriller The Love of Stones by Tobias Hill, if you’re into that kind of thing.) I was curious as to why a notepad from LIFE should be carrying this particular watermark, as it so pointedly refers to another company. I asked LIFE, and got a surprising answer: the paper is actually manufactured by Mitsubishi Paper Mills! (This is why it says “Produced by LIFE” instead of “Made/Manufactured by LIFE”. A subtle difference there.) Three kinds of “Bank Paper” are listed on the Mitsubishi Paper Mills site, and I think this LIFE-branded paper is the one that weighs 87.9g per square meter, the heaviest among the three.
There is another story I have to tell relating to this notepad. I could have gotten it much earlier, when I spotted it at a local store. The price quoted at me then was, if I remember correctly, around 25 CAD. I flipped the pad on its back and saw that the original price was 800 yen. (And the Canadian dollar was not even that weak back then.) Now, I know that retailers carry all kinds of overhead and need to make a healthy profit, but really, I couldn’t justify paying three times the original price. I don’t know if it’s the Canadian tax regime, or Quebec, or the cost of doing business here rather than elsewhere, but looking at the prices here I cannot help feeling that they penalize Japanese imports much more harshly than those of other countries. (That, or they expect customers to be more tolerant, or ignorant, of the extent of the markup on Japanese goods.) In the end I got mine from a retailer whose prices were much more reasonable.
It’s actually pretty easy to figure out the original retail price of a Japanese product: the number encased in a rectangle at the back is the price. Not all products are marked like this now, but this was standard practice when all manufactured goods were sold at the list price set by the manufacturer (especially in those days when there was no sales tax to add on). Can you tell how much the Frixion stamp is?