A Nakaya has been on my buy list for a few years now but because my taste in fountain pens has been moving towards vintage European pens it has taken a long time for my first Nakaya purchase to materialize.
Nakaya gets a lot of attention on pen forums and blogs and while the pens are clearly beautiful there is more to it than that; there is an x-factor to these pens. Much like a handmade car, one has to use it in order to understand its real value.
I spent a lot of time on pen forums and on nibs.com (no affiliation) before selecting a Naka-ai Cigar Negoro Shiro-tamenuri.
Let’s attempt to explain the name: Nakaya is the brand which was the original name of the Platinum Company. “Naka-ai” is the model name, which means “middle” in Japanese. The Naka-ai is the result of a collaboration between Nakaya and John Mottishaw of Classic Fountain Pens Inc. (nibs.com). “Cigar” refers to the pen’s cigar shape and lack of a clip; the version with the clip is called the “Writer”. “Negoro” (couldn’t find the Japanese translation) refers to the weathered/cracked treatment applied to the pen. “Shiro-tamenuri” refers to the color and the clear urushi lacquer applied to the pen.
The Naka-ai is really a work of art. The many layers of Urushi lacquer give the golden brown color a lot of depth. The “cracks” are hand engraved into the barrel and look beautifully weathered. It takes over six months to make a Negoro model and it shows. The lighter golden brown shows through near the edges of the cap and barrel as well as on the cracks and threading. The long tapered shape of the Nakai-ai is beautiful and being a Cigar model it has no clip which offers a more uniquely Asian look than the more practical Writer model.
Under the cap is a big shapely 14k gold nib that features the Nakaya globe logo and some scrollwork.
The converter features Maki-e painted goldfish which not only makes the converter look like an aquarium full of ink but also really sets it apart from the cheap plain converters I am so accustomed to seeing.
The Naka-ai is easily the most exotic-looking and most beautiful pen in my collection. I am not usually one for embellishments but the non-ostentatious look of the Negoro is fantastic.
The Naka-ai is clearly of a high quality but it has a very different feel to it than the high-end European pens I am used to handling. To me it feels much more delicate.
It’s hard to explain; if it were a car it would be a handmade Bentley Mulsanne compared to a Montblanc 146 which would be more like a Mercedes S-Class, that is to say everything on the Naka-ai is gorgeous, but not made with the laser precision of the much less gorgeous Montblanc.
The feel of urushi lacquer is special…it almost has a moist or wet quality to it. It’s wonderful to touch. I believe that urushi lacquer is the same or at least very similar to the Chinese lacquer S.T. Dupont used to put on their pens. I haven’t seen anyone test the flame resistant qualities of urushi though, so that special characteristic may only apply to Chinese lacquer.
The Naka-ai is designed to accommodate decoration on its body and as a result there is a lot of threading so that the design will always line up when capped. In practice though, I have found it to be difficult to properly line up the large crack (decoration) that spreads from the body to the cap. When I use the Naka-ai regularly I can get the design to line up without too much thought but admittedly when I pick up the pen, not having used it for a week or two I find that it can take me 2-4 tries to get it correct. I suppose this isn’t really a quality issue but it’s worth pointing out.
Everything on the Naka-ai fits tightly and there is no indication that this is anything less than an heirloom quality pen.
Size & Weight
The Naka-ai measures a little over 6” capped and about 5.5” uncapped. At its widest point it is about 0.7” and weighs about 27.5 grams. It is definitely a large pen but not so big as to be uncomfortable for regular use. Because of its excellent balance I can write with this pen for long periods of time. The grip section is on the smaller side but I find it to be quite comfortable. By comparison, the similarly sized Montblanc 149 section is too fat to be comfortable; I can jot down some quick notes but I wouldn’t write a letter with a 149.
It should be noted that the Naka-ai is not designed to be posted. If you get a cigar (clipless) model you will need a place for the cap so that it doesn’t roll off the table. I started with a Nakaya 3 pen pillow but ended up opting for a Nakaya Desk Pen stand for my uncapped Nakaya. I leave the cap in the kimono case that comes with the pen.
A little background on the nib: I purchased my Nakaya from Classic Fountain Pens Inc (nibs.com) with a soft medium nib that I had modified to match the softness of the nib on my Montblanc 146 from the early 1950s (which was coincidently already at CFP for repairs). I spoke with John Mottishaw on the phone and we decided that in addition to softening up the nib we would add a left foot oblique modification.
The 14kt gold nib writes beautifully. It is soft and makes my writing look more distinctive. I have had no issues with hard starting or skipping. I have had my Nakaya for 5 months now and the performance has been excellent.
The softer nib makes for a little bit wetter writing experience; if you like a drier nib I wouldn’t recommend adding any flex. Also, it should be pointed out that the modifications listed above make the nib less beginner friendly. Being a Japanese medium the line is more equivalent to a western fine and when you add the oblique modification you have a more defined sweet spot than a regular ball-pointed nib or a wider oblique.
As I have stated many times before, I am a big fan of converters and while they may not be as elaborate or as expensive to make as other types of fillers they are the easiest to use and keep clean. Nakaya uses a very nice quality Platinum converter that holds a decent amount of ink. I have both the standard Platinum converter and the special Nakaya goldfish Maki-e painted converter; both offer the exact same function but the painted one is a bit more special.
The Naka-ai will also take Platinum ink cartridges and can be fitted with an adapter that will allow you to use international short ink cartridges.
Nakaya’s pricing has been going up over the last few years but comparable Urushi lacquer pens are (in most cases) at least $100 more expensive. From the other Urushi lacquer pens I have seen in person (Danitrio, Platinum, Sailor, and Namiki) I truly believe that Nakaya gives you the most for your money without compromising on any important detail.
The Negoro version is an extra $350 over the standard Naka-ai (in standard colors) and with my modifications and the Maki-e converter my pen was over $1,000, which is a lot of money for a pen, but to me this pen is a real work of art and priced quite fairly.
I should point out that Nakaya uses Platinum nibs and it is possible to get the same nib on a much more affordable pen. I have a Platinum 3776 Century with the same big 14kt gold nib (sans the modifications) and it performs superbly.
The Nakaya Naka-ai is a beautiful work of art that lives up to the hype.
Final Score 26/30