(Susan M. Pigott is a fountain pen collector, pen and paperholic, photographer, and professor. You can find more from Susan on her blog Scribalishess.)
I am an indecisive person. Here the new year comes, and I can’t decide which planner to use. I’ve reviewed the Hobonichi Cousin and the Traveler’s Notebook on Pen Addict. I wound up buying a Hobonichi Techo in November because I like the size. All three planners have positives and negatives, but just when I think I’ve made up my mind, I change it again. I realize that there are many other planners from which to choose, but for me it comes down to these three.
The Hobonichi Techo
The Techo is probably most people’s first choice when it comes to Hobonichi planners. It’s the only one that comes in an English version, and its diminutive size (A6) makes it nicely portable.
The first two pages provide a yearly calendar for 2017 and 2018.
These are followed by vertical monthly calendars starting with December 2016 and going through March 2018. Each day gets one line, so you can’t write much, but you do get a visual overview of the months.
Next are monthly calendar grids beginning with January 2017 going through March 2018. These allow you much more space to write in events. Each week begins on Monday rather than Sunday, which often messes me up since I’m so accustomed to American calendars which usually begin on Sunday.
The main part of the planner consists of a page per day. Prior to each month is a lined page where you can write down important events or things to do for that month. Then, each page has the day of the month, the moon phase, a grid with 12:00 printed midway down the page, a quote (on the left page) and the author of the quote (on the right page), and a small monthly calendar with the date circled.
You can write the other hours of the day in the left-hand column and use the remainder of the page for your daily schedule, to dos, bullet journal, or whatever you like. I appreciate the fact that the planner does not force you to follow a particular format, so you can make lists, draw, paint, use stickers, etc.
At the back of the planner are several pages with things like contacts; size charts; a conversion table and a small ruler; Japanese plants, animals, and tea rituals; international country codes and dialing codes; a list of international holidays; and a page for your personal information.
The planner sets off each month in a tab-like format which you can see when you view the pages from the side, so it’s easy to find each month.
This year I purchased a Hobonichi cover for my Techo, though you can find all sorts of covers on Etsy.
I like the Hobonichi cover’s inner pockets where you can insert cards and sticker books. It also has two bookmarks that are sewn in.
The one thing I don’t like about the Hobonichi cover is the pen-loop closure method. It’s bulky and I would never use a fountain pen to keep the notebook closed because the pen is too exposed.
So, I bought a little card that fits in the back pocket with an elastic closure. It’s not perfect because it doesn’t keep the notebook completely secure. But, I like this method much better than the pen loops. I may cut the pen loops off if I can do so without making the cover look awful.
The Hobonichi Techo can be purchased from the Hobonichi Store for 2,700 Yen (=$22.97). The notebook cover I got is 1,944 Yen (=$16.54). You can purchase the notebook and cover together for 3,780 Yen (=$32.16) plus shipping from Japan. You can find this same cover and notebook at JetPens for $47.00 (they are currently out of stock).
- The Hobonichi Techo size is perfect, because you can easily fit it in your purse or backpack.
- The notebook contains a vertical monthly grid that lets you see several months at one time; a monthly grid that gives you space to write more detailed plans; and a page-a-day planner.
- The notebook uses fantastic Tomoe River Paper.
- The A6 size is small but adequate if you write small.
- The planner lies flat when open.
- I love the quotes at the bottom of each page.
- The Hobonichi Cover contains pockets for cards, stickers, etc., along with two sewn-in bookmarks.
- People who write bigger or want more room for drawing or painting might feel cramped in the Techo.
- There is no weekly planner in this version.
- I don’t like the pen loop closure method. I think it would be fine for anyone who uses inexpensive pens. But I would never use one of my fountain pens as a notebook closure.
The Hobonichi Cousin
The Cousin is the A5 version of the Techo with some nice additions and differences. Unfortunately, it does not come in English (though the days and months are printed in English). Its larger size means you have room for much more, and it offers some weekly planning pages that you won’t find in the Techo.
The first two pages provide a large yearly calendar for 2017 and smaller yearly calendars for 2016 and 2018 on the facing page.
Next are the vertical monthly pages. These are exactly the same size as the Techo version but with additional writing space at the bottom. The vertical monthly calendar begins with January 2017 and goes through December 2017 (whereas the Techo goes through March 2018).
The Cousin offers much larger monthly grid calendars with lots of extra space on the left margin and below. Again, the days of the week start on Monday. Fortunately, the name of the month and the days of the week are in English as well as Japanese.
A weekly planning grid appears next in the Cousin but it’s absent in the Techo. This grid plots each week with 24-hour time increments so you can see each week at a glance. Although I thought I would use this planning element extensively, I rarely referred to it last year. So, even though I like the addition, I haven’t found it necessary in my planning. I tend to look at my wall calendar to see what’s coming up for the week rather than the weekly calendar in the Cousin.
Like the Techo, the Cousin provides a page-per-day planner. Each month begins with a “Remember This” page followed by each day of the month. The Cousin gives you the month’s number (but not its name in English), and the day, the day of the week, and the moon phase. The hours of the day are shown in increments of three hours in 24-hour time on the left. As I said in my original review of the Cousin, I wish they had spread the times of day down the entire page and done them in one-hour increments. I write over the hours so that my daily page goes from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. The top of the page gives you five check boxes for to-dos. This leaves the remainder of the page for whatever you want to put there. It’s actually more room than I need. At the bottom is a daily quote in Japanese (not useful for those of us who don’t speak Japanese) and a small monthly calendar wth the date circled. I hope that eventually Hobonichi will make an English version of the Cousin.
Unlike the Techo, each month tab is a different color. I like that extra detail.
Additional pages at the back of the Cousin include a weekly timetable; graph paper; a gift list; a favorite things chart; a page called “My 100” which I suppose is a place to list your top 100 somethings; several pages in Japanese; a Remember This and Addresses page; and a Personal Notes page.
Although I own an absolutely beautiful Esplanade London wool cover for my Cousin, I bought a new Hobonichi cover this year that has a spring-like flower pattern. I figure that on cold days I can use the wool cover and through the spring and summer I can use the Hobonichi cover.
The Hobonichi Cousin Cover has larger (and more) pockets than the Techo. Like the Techo, it uses a pen loop closure system and comes with two sewn-in bookmarks. As with the Techo, I bought a card with an elastic that I use to keep the cover closed, though because the cover is much larger, the elastic doesn’t work as well.
The Hobonichi Cousin can only be purchased through the Hobonichi Store in Japan. Their website is English-friendly, so it’s not difficult to place an order. The Cousin notebook by itself is 3,780 Yen (=$32.16). The notebook cover I bought cost 7,020 Yen (=$59.72). Again, you can find Cousin-sized notebook covers quite easily on Etsy.
- The A5 size of the Cousin makes it a much more substantial planner. There’s more room to write, especially on the Monthly Grids and the Daily Pages.
- The Cousin offers a Weekly Planner section unavailable in the Techo.
- As with the Techo, the Cousin uses Tomoe River Paper.
- The planner lies flat when open.
- The Cousin Notebook cover is nicely made with lots of pockets.
- The Cousin is much bulkier and heavy than the Techo. It won’t fit in a purse (unless that purse is quite large), though it will certainly fit in a backpack, briefcase, or carrier bag. That said, you can purchase the Cousin Avec which comes in two thinner six month notebooks to decrease the thickness.
- The quotes at the bottom of the daily pages are in Japanese.
- Currently you can only buy the Cousin through the Hobonichi store. As far as I know, no American retailers carry it yet.
The Traveler’s Notebook
This is the planner of choice for many people. Like the Hobonichi, there are many devoted followers of this notebook. The thing I like best about the Traveler’s Notebook is its versatility–you can include many different kinds of notebooks and change their order to suit your style.
In my current set up, I have a daily planner, a weekly planner, a monthly planner, and a lined notebook.
The Daily Planner contains two months worth of pages (so you’ll need to buy six to cover a full year). It’s unmarked, so you can start with any month you like. The first page is a vertical monthly planner followed by a page per day grid. At the top there’s a blank space for writing a title and check boxes for each day of the week. I usually write the day of the week in the blank because the checkboxes are too small for my taste. I use the left-hand column to write in the hours of the day and put in my daily schedule. There’s enough room at the bottom for to-dos.
The Free Weekly Planner provides four pages at the beginning with a monthly vertical grid, which is nice because you can see an entire semester on two pages.
These pages are followed by the weekly planner pages. On the left, you have each day of the week, starting on Monday. You fill in the day of the month. Each day has a box where you can write events or other things. On the right is a grid where you can write to-dos for each day. The weekly planner contains 28 weeks, so you’ll need two to cover a full year.
The Monthly Planner begins with two pages of vertical monthly grids. These are followed by large two-page monthly grids with plenty of room to write. Since the pages are unmarked other than the grid, you can start with any month. Fourteen months are included.
The Lined Notebook contains 32 pages (64 front and back) with 6.5mm ruling. The paper is fountain-pen friendly.
You can find Traveler’s Notebooks in several places. I buy my filler notebooks from JetPens. They range in price from $5.50 to $13.00 (for the regular sizes). The basic Traveler’s Notebook starter kit is $53.50 from JetPens. I bought my cover from Chic Sparrow for $89.00. I must say I’m rather disappointed with it. I knew the leather would fade somewhat with time, but it’s gone from a beautiful turquoise blue to a sort of ugly tan-blue in just a few months, and I’ve barely used it.
- The main advantage I see in the Traveler’s Notebook is its versatility. You can put a variety of notebooks in it and in any order. You can also start with any month and day. With the Hobonichi, the order is set and the calendars start in January.
- The size and shape of the Traveler’s Notebook appeals to many people. It is longer vertically than other notebooks, which makes it unusual and distinctive.
- The paper in the Traveler’s Notebooks is good quality, and now you can purchase Tomoe River paper in TN sizes.
- The basic Traveler’s Notebook covers come with no frills. If you want to add more than three notebooks, you have to buy extra elastics. There are no pockets in the covers.
- Although the notebook inserts are versatile, when you use the weekly and daily inserts, you need to be aware that only a few months are covered. So, you’ll have to buy at least two or more inserts to cover a full year.
- If you want pockets for peripherals, you’ll either need to buy a zippered insert or purchase a third-party Traveler’s Notebook cover.
So Which One?
Short answer: I still don’t know.
I thought I had decided on the Hobonichi Cousin at long last because I tend to prefer A5 notebooks. But I don’t like how big and thick it is. If I decide to go with the Cousin in the future, I will probably order the Cousin Avec which comes in two separate six month books that correspond roughly to my semesters at the university. That way, I can have the A5 size without the thickness.
As it turns out, I love the size of the Hobonichi Techo which I thought would be too small. It has all the planner pages I actually use, and I don’t really need the large page size of the Cousin. Essentially, all I write on my daily pages are my to dos and daily schedule. I tried using up the extra space in the Cousin by writing quotes and drawing pictures, but that lasted about a month last year. In my Cousin, most of the daily page remains blank, and I feel like I’m wasting space. In the Techo, I actually use the space provided.
I’m still torn between the two. Maybe I’ll find a use for both.
As much as I like being able to switch out notebooks and rearrange their order in the Traveler’s Notebook, I don’t like how thick it becomes once I’ve added all my notebooks. It won’t lie flat when open, so you wind up having to use bulky clips to keep it open. I prefer the Tomoe paper in the Hobonichi, and even though I can get Tomoe notebooks for the Traveler, they don’t come in all the configurations I like.
I’m also not fond of the plain Traveler’s Notebook covers with their stingy elastics requiring you to buy extra elastics if you want more than three notebooks.
So, it’s down to Hobonichi Cousin v. Techo. I’m leaning toward the Techo this year. I guess if it’s just too small for everything I need to write, I can go back to the Cousin. And then there are all those other notebooks and planners calling my name. . .