As I have become enlightened about Muji and their stationery over the years, I can’t help but think about what the underlying brands are for this white label wonder.
It has been easy to sort out the origins of the gel ink pens: The refills come directly from the sources. Even though all of the normal markings are removed, the refill shapes match their source companies refills. Even the plastic parts of the refills are the same colors as the OEM refill.
A quick twist of the barrel and you will see refills from Uni-ball, Zebra, and Pentel in use in their various gel ink pens. And its not like they are trying to hide it either - the Muji pen that uses the Zebra Sarasa refill is a spitting image of the Zebra Sarasa Clip pen. It’s easy to sort out.
The Muji Pencil though. That poses a challenge. What cues from the design can help me figure it out? Can I tell anything simply from the feel of the graphite core?
If this was a bad pencil I wouldn’t care. But it’s not. It’s downright awesome. When I first opened the package, sharpened one up, and put the tip to the page, my response was “Oh!” as in, this feels good. The graphite is smooth and dark. Yes, a 2B should feel that way, but I thought it was extra nice.
That led me immediately to my next question: “Who is making these for Muji?” I’ll cut to the chase right now and tell you I don’t know for sure, but the list of options is very, very short.
The first words out of my mouth were that it reminds me of the Tombow Mono 100 - high praise indeed - but I didn’t have one at the time to test. I do now. I don’t own a 2B Tombow, but I did test the HB from the Mono, Mono 100, 8900, and 2558 lineups. And I don’t think the Muji pencil is made by Tombow. All of the Tombow cores felt similar to each other, and none had the smoothness or darkness of the Muji.
My second thought was Mitsubishi. Knowing the relationship that Muji already has with the company - Uni-ball gel ink refills for starters - I’d say this is the most likely scenario. The Mitsubishi 9850 feels really close, despite it being an HB versus 2B comparison. The consistency of the graphite on the page is much closer than anything from Tombow.
After being compelled by the 9850, I thought the 2B Mitsubishi Hi-Uni would be a closer match than it was, but it has a firmer core than the Muji by a good amount.
Surprisingly, the Blackwing Pearl was a close match for the Muji. The core felt similar, and the color and smoothness on the page was similar. I’m not sure if that says more about the 9850 or the Pearl. Regardless, these are the two closest matches, with of course the HB in the 9850 being firmer than the other two.
One final point to make in my overthinking this: The pencil barrel has a code stamped into the barrel. I have no idea what it means, but I do know that the font used doesn’t match any of the Japanese pencils I own that have similar markings. The 6 is especially telling.
So, I’d love to tell you who makes this pencil, but I can’t say for sure. (Update: According to an enterprising reader they are made by Kitaboshi, making my Blackwing comment even more interesting than I knew. Seems legit!) What I can tell you is it looks great, feels great, and works great, and for a .50 cent pencil, what more can you ask for? Heck, it may even convert me over to the dark side of the B scale in time.
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