Hello again! Daryl from Musubi here.
It's been quite a while since last we spoke. Unfortunately, I had to take a bit of a break from the business due to health issues. Those should be a little more settled now, and we’re back and firing on all cylinders.
If you’re relatively new to the brand and our long newsletters, welcome! I promise this one won’t be altogether too scary. And for all of you who’ve stuck around with us through the release gap, I’m grateful as always for your patience and your loyalty.
So! There's a lot of material to cover today. Let's get stuck in without too much preamble.
Where are the damn folio covers?; or, how to make a subpar product
No doubt the first question on everyone’s mind, I should think, is: where are the folio covers we announced so long ago? Given the extended delays, I think it's only fair you get a full explanation of where things stand.
We had a working prototype of our folio covers at the last San Francisco show we attended, in 2019. Some of you will remember having seen glimpses of them at the after-dinner bar scene.
While these covers were functionally about 70-80% complete, and just needed minor adjustments before we headed into production, even then there was already a general feeling of unease amongst the entire design team. We were confident in the production quality of the prototypes, but unsure if the design was good enough to be finalised.
Obviously, Covid-19 then arrived and threw a gigantic wrench into everyone's plans. We couldn't plan out our production timelines because many facilities — especially those specialising in fabric technology — diverted into PPE manufacturing, including the place where we make our pen cases. This, coupled with our complete inability to travel directly to the facility to work on prototypes and samples, made progress slow and inconsistent.
As we worked through these issues, our discomfort simmered and eventually congealed. I consulted with everyone involved on their feelings about the project and found that we'd all come to a remarkably similar conclusion: the folio covers were decent — but they were not a Musubi.
That same day, I took the decision to reboot the project.
I know this is news that will disappoint our loyal fans, many of whom have been waiting a long time for the covers to release. As Musubi's founder, the responsibility is mine in full, and I can only apologise for it.
We've had our heads down and beavering away for a few months now, and are in a much better place product-wise. The folio covers sport an entirely new design, and more importantly, one we're much happier with than before.
The Tomo system continues to be a key part of our lineup here at Musubi, and we're fully committed to seeing it through. I will continue to keep you all updated as we wend our way through the process.
Obviously, though, notebook covers come with notebooks to refill them. Fortunately, we have some better news to share in that regard.
Tomoe River: where we’re at, and where we’re going
As many of you will no doubt already know, the previous owners of the Tomoe River brand, Tomoegawa, announced a little while back that they'd sold the entire kit and caboodle — paper, recipes, current stock, everything but the machinery — to Sanzen Paper.
Many of you have written in to ask how we feel about the changes, and what we plan to do with our Tomoe River offerings moving forward. So I thought we’d clear that up today.
First, we need a quick explanation of what's out there to begin with. I'll focus on Tomoe River techo 52, since that's the only kind of TR we use at the atelier.
There are currently three versions of Tomoe River techo 52 out in the wild:
- Old Tomoe River. This was made by Tomoegawa on machine 7, and is no longer in production. We call this TR7 internally.
- New Tomoe River. This was made by Tomoegawa on machine 9, and forms the bulk of TR product currently available on the market. We call this TR9 internally.
- Tomoe River Sanzen (officially Tomoe River S). This is made by the new manufacturer Sanzen, on completely different machinery, and its availability is not yet widespread. We call this TRS internally.
All of Musubi's existing Tomoe River products are on TR7: the original, old Tomoe River that you know and love. We have a goodly amount of stock remaining for our handbound journals, and do not plan to switch any time soon. Our folio notebooks, which run on a separate supply of TR7, have healthy quantities in some rulings but are beginning to run down in others (read: if you want the cross grid paginated ruling on old Tomoe River you should act reasonably soon).
The second version (TR9) that Tomoegawa introduced was divisive, to say the least. Some folks liked how it ghosted less than the original, but many others were not big fans of what the paper did to shading and sheen on their favourite inks. We have skipped over TR9 entirely — it will not be making an appearance in the Musubi lineup.
Now, the new challenger on the block: TRS. We recently finished our testing of this paper, and found it to have pretty similar performance to that of TR7. I'll break down its properties in greater detail in an upcoming letter, but what you should know is that as our stock of TR7 runs out, it will be replenished using TRS.
We will keep the old folio notebooks using the old TR7 and the new folio notebooks using TRS as separate listings on our website, so that you'll always know which version you’re buying. The old versions will remain available in our store until we run out of stock.
Further, there will be no change in formats between the TR7 and TRS versions of the folio notebook — the same blank, lined, and cross grid paginated rulings you've come to know and love will be available in the new paper, and with the same understated grey linen cover.
As mentioned earlier, we will have a big letter shortly going over the unique properties of TRS as they compare to TR7, but I know some of you are already up to speed and want to get your hands on the new paper as soon as possible.
Let's make that easy. You can buy both old and new versions right here and now:
Buy Now (Tomoe River 7)
Buy Now (Tomoe River Sanzen)
As mentioned above, our handbound division will continue to use TR7 for the foreseeable future, and will not be part of this transition. The paper for handbound journals and folio notebooks is cut to different formats respectively, and so decisions in one division don’t affect the other.
Hopefully all that explains where we’re at, and what we intend to do with Tomoe River going forward. I'm confident fans of the old TR7 will find much to like about the new TRS. We intend the new Tomoe River S folio notebooks to be a permanent addition to the Musubi lineup, and they will be kept constantly in stock.
Alright, that's the folio covers and the new Tomoe River sorted. What else is on the slate?
What's vintage is once again new
You already knew it — there was no chance Musubi was going to come roaring back without one of these.
For our first kimono release in a long time, we've dug deep into the cloth vault to find a piece quite unlike the usual motifs of temple carriages, pagodas, and cranes. This time, it's all about the kamon, or flower crest.
Much in the same way a coat of arms functioned for a medieval European family, the old houses of Japan each had their own unique flower crest, serving at once as calling card and a symbol of clan pride. Various crests run on the diagonal throughout this vintage kimono, making it a pretty unique and eye-catching piece.
We were only able to cut enough cloth from this kimono for five diaries. I expect they will go rather quickly. You know what to do:
But that's not the only handbound journal up for grabs today.
Cats at play
Astute readers might remember this next release from our ad-hocs and prototypes table at San Francisco in 2019, where we were playing around with a bunch of flower and animal themes.
Well, our supplier managed to find us another offcut of the same fabric, so say hello again to this delightful kindle of kittens:
There are two colourways, salmon and blue — and whichever you opt for, you'll find plenty of black and calico furballs gambolling across the cover. The fabric, too, is itself a joy: a rough cotton with a pronounced slub, and warm to the touch.
We have a reasonable number of these, and they’re on the website right this instant:
But what about those wanting something a little more traditional?
Cosmo Air Light — now bound by hand
Those of you more familiar with Cosmo Air Light will know that the market for notebooks in this paper is dominated by the 75 gsm and 83 gsm variants, the latter of which we use in our folio notebook lineup.
Well, when we were developing the CAL folio notebooks, we actually spent a solid month or two debating internally whether to push them to an even thicker version of the paper that doesn't see much airtime at all: 92 gsm.
In testing, this version proved to be our favourite performer out of all the available weights. While longer dry times and the slightly thicker nature of the paper mean it isn't suited to the kinds of flexible use cases that our folio notebooks require, CAL 92 feels excellent to journal on in longform scenarios where one can apply an unhurried hand and fully enjoy the writing experience.
In particular, it has the most pronounced expression of that velvety texture peculiar to CAL without veering into cardstock territory, and ink performance in terms of shading and sheening is almost unmatched by any other paper we've ever tested.
In short, I think it's much more suited to the handbound journal format, and so that's where we're going to put it.
To start, this will be available in all five colours of our seigaiha fabric. This is somewhat of an experimental release for us: if it proves popular, we'll keep it around, but if it doesn't find too many takers, we'll leave it as a one-off release. Let me know what you think when you get your hands and pens on it.
Cheaper shipping for everyone, internationally
Finally, I have some good news for all our international customers.
Last week, we sat down with our shipping partner DHL Express to see if we could renegotiate some better rates for our orders. I'm pleased to say this was successful, and that as of a week ago we locked in new rates that are 20% to 25% lower across all regions.
As an example of the newly lowered rates, our most common shipment of two folio notebooks to the United States is now just 18 USD, all fuel costs included. And the service level remains the same as before, meaning you should continue to expect a quick two to three days' transit time to the US.
These rates are already live in the system and you should see the savings on any orders you place from here on out. This should make it easier to both buy smaller quantities of folio notebooks as a tryout, and to place large orders once you're one of our regulars who uses our notebooks in bulk.
The reductions cover all destinations and are automatic — there's no need to put in any codes at checkout.
The road to San Francisco
That's long enough a letter for right now, I should think! To recap:
- we're introducing Tomoe River Sanzen to the folio notebook lineup;
- there's a new flower crest kimono diary and another with a bunch of calico cats;
- a thicker, more luxurious version of Cosmo Air Light is now available in our handbound format; and
- international shipping is cheaper by 20-25% across the board.
We'll have another update quite soon on our plans for the San Francisco show (yes, we'll be there!), including information on how to preorder for the show and sign up for our special event (hosted by yours truly). There'll also be details on our release slate for the rest of the year — so fingers crossed it won't be too long before we speak again.
I hope you enjoy the new journals and notebooks. Stay safe and well, and as always, keep lighting candles in the dark.
With much love
on behalf of everyone at Musubi