Ink review – Sailor Jentle Oku-yama

Oku-yama, Vac700 and Clairefontaine notebook

One of those times when pen, ink and notebook come together brilliantly

Sailor Jentle Oku-yama is part of the Four Seasons range of inks.  I believe that it was originally introduced as a limited edition ink, but is now a fixture in the range.  Oku-yama apparently translates as “remote mountain” or “deep mountain”, but that’s not much help in trying to figure out what colour it actually is.  Reading other reviews suggests maroon, pomegranate or cranberry.  Garnet is another possible descriptor.  Take your pick.

Despite all the rave reviews, my first instinct was that this is not the sort of ink colour that I go for.  Blues, greys and the occasional green are much more my normal hunting ground.  I decided to buy a sample to see how I got on, and as you can see from the first photo, I liked it enough to buy a whole bottle.  However you choose to describe it, this ink is striking and a really interesting colour.

I bought my bottle for £16.20 from the nice people at The Writing Desk, but it’s fairly  widely available in the UK.  In the US, Jet Pens will sell you a bottle for $14.25, Anderson Pens for $18.  Wonderpens in Canada also have it listed at Can$24.75.  This is definitely not a budget ink, but it’s still way cheaper than inks like Caran d’Ache, Graf von Faber Castell and Pilot Iroshizuku.

As with other Four Seasons inks, Oku-yama comes in a round and fairly squat 50ml bottle.  The bottle contains an insert that is meant to make filling your pen easier.  With the bottle capped, turn it upside down to fill this internal reservoir.  Turn the bottle the right way up, uncap it and fill your pen.  With larger nibbed pens, filling may be tricky depending on how far you need to insert the pen.  Some people seem to find this insert infuriating to use, but so far I haven’t found it too much of a chore.

What’s it like?

Oku-yama is pretty well saturated, although it does get a bit darker with multiple passes when swabbing it.  As I’ve already said, inks of this colour are off my normal radar, so I don’t have a huge back catalogue to compare it with.  Some internet research throws up names like Diamine Syrah, Montblanc Bordeaux and Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-budo as being close.  The only inks I have that come remotely close are from a mixed pack of Diamine cartridges.

As you can see, Diamine Claret is nothing like it.  Oxblood is not dissimilar but Oku-yama has more of a red tint to it.

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Oku-yama alongside Diamine Claret and Oxblood on Tomoe River paper

A bit of kitchen chromatography throws up an interesting mix of colours as you might expect for an ink like this.

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Oku-yama in action

I’ve tried this ink out in a Sheaffer Legacy Heritage (medium), a Noodler’s Ahab Flex (fine medium), a TWSBI Vac700 (fine and broad) and a Lamy Safari (1.1mm stub).  As I found with the Vac700, it’s a great ink for a demonstrator pen – the sort of colour you’d want to see and not hide away.

In terms of papers, I’ve used Oku-yama on Tomoe River, Clairefontaine, Life Noble, Rhodia and TWSBI paper.  One observation is that I think it looks better on cream-coloured papers compared to the white of Rhodia and standard-issue Clairefontaine.

It’s most definitely not waterproof, but it doesn’t make itself out to be so.  Dry times are reasonable – a little over 20 seconds on Clairefontaine paper with a broad nib in my Vac700.  Expect it to be longer on something like Tomoe River and allow for quicker drying times with a finer nib/dryer pen.  My non-scientific assessment is that I’ve used it quite extensively for journaling in an A5 notebook and not had any issues with the ink not being dry when it’s time to turn the page.

I’d describe Oku-yama as a “wet” ink, so although it performed well on these papers it won’t come as a surprise to learn that there was some show-through.  There was no bleed-through at all.  In fact the only real surprise was some feathering on Life Noble paper with the Sheaffer.  It’s the first time I’ve experienced feathering on this paper, but the Sheaffer bears more than a passing resemblance to a fire hose in terms of the amount of ink it puts down, so I can forgive that.

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Feathering on Life Noble paper

Aside from the gorgeous colour, Oku-yama has a reputation for two things – shading and sheen.  I found that it will shade without any need for encouragement.  Even with a relatively dry-writing pen like the Safari, I couldn’t have stopped this ink from shading if I’d wanted to.  Similarly, I found that Oku-yama shaded on all the papers I tried it on.IMG_20170526_220257

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Oku-yama on Clairefontaine (top) and Life Noble (bottom) paper

The Sheen, What About The Sheen?

As with a number of other Sailor inks, Oku-yama will produce sheen.  In this case it’s a green/gold sheen.  It will come as absolutely no surprise that the easiest paper to see sheen on is Tomoe River.

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Oku-yama ink splat on Tomoe River paper

It’s there, even with normal writing – you really don’t have to try very hard at all.  My photos don’t show it very well, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

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Sheen on Tomoe River paper

I also managed to get some sheen on Life Noble and TWSBI papers, but there’s clearly something in the surface finish of Rhodia and Clairefontaine papers that kills it off.

Summary

At the outset, I didn’t know what to expect from Sailor’s Oku-yama or what I would make of it.  In the end I kind of fell for it.  It’s not really a colour for work use, but it’s both cheery and complex and a joy to write with in most other situations.  I’ve used it quite a bit for journal keeping and I haven’t found it to be overpowering when used page after page.

As a measure of how much I like it, I’ve written the Sheaffer dry and am probably down to a fifth of a tank in the Vac700, which has a huge ink capacity.  I’ll certainly refill the Vac700 with it when it runs dry.

This one’s a keeper!

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The Hedgehog of Wisdom – using Midori Flash Cards to index inks

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“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”  (Archilochus)

…hedgehogs aren’t simpletons; they have a piercing insight that allows them to see through complexity and discern underlying patterns. Hedgehogs see what is essential, and ignore the rest.”  (Jim Collins)

At the start of 2017 I resolved to expand the range of inks in my possession and I’m happy to say it’s a resolution I’ve managed to keep to, buying both bottles and samples to test different makes and colours.  This creates its own problems: i) where to keep the ink; and ii) how to keep track of what I’ve got.  I haven’t really solved the first one, but I’ve made a start on the second.  Enter the Hedgehog…

Like many people, when I first discovered the Midori Traveler’s Notebook I also stumbled on the vast array of stationery items that Midori also produces.  They all seemed like a good idea at the time I bought them, but have mostly sat around my desk looking for a purpose in life.  And so it was with a set of flash cards in the shape of a hedgehog.  Nice enough to look at, but what on earth was I going to do with them?

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The Hedgehog of Wisdom

Cataloguing inks

With the number of inks I owned growing fast, I realised I needed to do something to keep a handle on what I had.  My first attempt to catalogue my inks was with a Clairefontaine Age Bag notebook.  Great idea I thought.  Lots of high quality pure-white pages.  What’s not to like?  Well, a couple of things actually…

Sure the paper is good, but I really, really hate the way this book is put together.  To say it’s not a lay-flat binding is an understatement.  Call me squeamish, but I can’t quite bring myself to inflict the level of physical violence on a poor, defenceless book that is necessary to make it stay open at the page I’m interested in.  Also, and presumably to save cost, the faux aged card covers are stuck on top of the spine tape, rather than integral to the binding.

The flaw in the plan with notebooks

There also some practical problems on the horizon.  However you group inks and categorise them, if you use a book you are almost guaranteed to want to compare two inks that are on different pages.  Short of tearing out pages, you’re going to struggle to make all the side-by-side comparisons you’ll want.  Also, unless you’re brilliant at predicting how many inks of each colour you’re going to end up with, allowing enough space for each in (say) the blue section is going to be tricky.

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You can get a lot on a page in a notebook, but the format is not very flexible

Here’s where the Hedgehog comes in.  It’s a stack of 80 flash cards, held together by a metal ring.  The ring can be opened to add, remove, move cards, but you can just add a swatch for each new ink without worrying about any particular sequence.

I’ve taken to numbering each swatch and keeping a list of which ink the number corresponds to.  I also try to “double up” on half of the swatch (i.e. two passes of the cotton bud) as a means of getting an idea about saturation and also to help spot things like sheen.

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Until I put this together, I’d never noticed the sheen that comes with Diamine Teal (if you apply enough of it!)

I like to compare how one ink looks against another.  It helps me figure out what to make of a new ink, if I can look at it alongside one that I already know.  The real utility of the Hedgehog is the ability to pull out several colours and compare them…

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A set of flash cards will cost you around £3/$3.  As well as hedgehogs you can have ducks, cats, dogs, bears, strawberries (you get the picture).  I got mine from the Journal Shop, but Jet Pens and the Tokyo Pen Shop also sell them.  I haven’t managed to figure what weight the paper is, but it’s plenty heavy enough and there’s been no hint of feathering, show-through or bleed-through.

Hedgehogs are truly wise creatures.