We Asked the Creator of the Traveler's Notebook About the Passion Behind It and Recommendations
The ability to create a unique book using a wide variety of refill pages and other customizable items is what makes the Traveler's Notebook so appealing. Kato from the Sales Promotion Group, the top fan of Traveler's Notebook at Tokyu Hands, interviewed Mr. Atsuhiko Iijima from the Business Department of Designphil Travelers, the birthplace of the notebook, about its origin story and recommended uses!
I created the Traveler's Notebook with the same excitement of students dismissed from the class.
Mr. Iijima, thank you for granting us this interview!
Thank you for having me.
First of all, to explain what the Traveler's Notebook is to the reader, the Traveler's Notebook is a notebook that features a cowhide cover and original writing paper that is simple and easy to write on. Part of its appeal is how you can customize the notebook to suit your preferences by combining the various types of writing paper called refills together using a special band. I use the Traveler's Notebook both for work and in my private life, so I am very happy to meet you, Mr. Iijima!
Well, I am happy just to hear you say that!
TRAVELER'S COMPANY TRAVELER'S notebook ¥4,000 + tax each
Kato's TRAVELER'S notebook. Below is the 10th Anniversary Canned Set made for the 10th anniversary of the TRAVELER'S notebook (property of Kato).
Of course, I already knew, but could you tell us again about the story behind the TRAVELER'S notebook?
Our company exhibited at ISOT (International Stationery & Office Products Fair Tokyo), a trade fair showing stationery and paper product samples in 2005, and as part of the project we hosted an in-house notebook competition. The Traveler's Note prototype ranked high and was turned into a product. I believe, one of the reasons it was so well received at the competition was the distinctive cover, and that cover was and is still is made by artisans at a workshop in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Workshop in Chiang Mai
How did you originally come to know the people in Chiang Mai?
About a year before the competition, I was in charge of imports production control and went to Thailand on other businesses. Chiang Mai is a town with small factories for woodworking and leather production, and I knew there were good workshops there as well, but at the time I thought it would be difficult to develop products with them in terms of quality control. When we need to make the notebook for the competition, I remembered about them and was thinking to work with them.
Why did you want to work with them?
I liked the things they were making of course, but more than that is the atmosphere they created was wonderful. When we requested they do this or that, they never showed grimace, but accepted it with a smile, saying "We'll try it." I mean, there were times when things didn't quite turn out, but I found the carefree way they worked very appealing and wanted to work with them on making something.
That carefree atmosphere comes through in the TRAVELER'S notebook. After it was decided that it would become a product, did you brush it up any?
That's right, we were using it for ourselves and then made some changes of the product to reflect the things we noticed. For example, we thought, wouldn't it be nice if there were beads on the cover, and then from there, we thought to incorporate the element of customization.
So you added ideas from the point of view of the user.
What I thought in the process of doing that was that it would be nice if the TRAVELER'S notebook could be a way to look back on oneself. For example, if you wanted to customize by putting stickers on it you wouldn't just stick something meaningless on it, right?
If they were to put on stickers, it would be something they bought while on a trip, or maybe stickers featuring their favorite artists, and in that way, use it to compile their memories or favorite things. We realized that the act of expression is a crucial element. Looking back on the notebook, I could see the framework of my preferences, and thought, "Oh, this is interesting."
Yes, it's so much fun to look back on!
Also, I admired the idea of a journey, in which, rather than traveling on tour with a set itinerary, you just go to your destination and think of what to do from there, and so I wanted to include that kind of freedom in the notebook. Travel notebooks often have predesignated space to fill in your itinerary or memories, but personally, I did not feel that kind of set structure would suit me, and aimed for a notebook that allows for freedom of expression like the exhilaration brought by a journey.
That's why the company has developed all kinds of refill pages to include unlined papers of varying quality, such as drawing paper and craft paper.
What's more, when imagining what would happen if you used this kind of notebook for work, I thought it could bring the sense of excitement of a journey to everyday work, making work more fun. That is why the TRAVELER'S notebook contains the message, "Live every day like a journey."
On a different note, did you also take market trends into account when turning the prototype into a product?
No, I wasn't really thinking about the market, just focused on making something I would want, something I thought would be cool. When we started trying to make a special website for the product release, we posted photos we took ourselves and copy we thought up ourselves, all of which were very fun.
It felt like getting together and hanging out with friends after class. That said, since we had created something we ourselves wanted, we felt strongly that we absolutely did not want to fail. If we did, we would have felt denied.
How Mr. Iijima uses the TRAVELER'S notebook
Mr. Iijima, how do you usually use the TRAVELER'S notebook?
Since I'm the kind of person who wants to separate work and private life, I only write in work-related items on the refill pages that manage my work schedule. Meanwhile, I draw pictures and things like that in my private notebook. I've never been to art school and am completely self-taught, so my drawings are more along the lines of doodles.
Would you mind showing us your notebook?
No, not at all!
Oh, it's good! What made you want to start drawing?
I have been doodling since I was a child, but what made me try drawing in the TRAVELER'S notebook was that we had demands from customers asking for refill pages of drawing paper. When creating these pages, I thought to try them out myself, and drawing my first picture in a long time was just so much fun. Since then I have continued to draw at the pace of about one page per week.
That sounds like fun! It's just, with pictures this good, it's going to be difficult to do any better...
Many customers say that they cannot draw well, but I think whether you can draw or not is not something one should worry about. Drawing in and of itself is fun, so it serves as a release, and just observing things you wish to draw alone leads to new discoveries. If you have children, it might be good to draw together.
I see, it's not something to fuss over so much!
Alternatively, those who cannot draw sometimes paste photographs and stickers, which can be very interesting as well.
That's how I am.
Is that so? Would you mind showing me how you use the notebook?
Sure, it's a little embarrassing, but this is the kind of thing I do.
Oh, it's lovely, isn't it! By the way, what is this a record of?
This is a compilation of an overnight trip I took with a friend a few days ago. The trip was so fun, I just had to save the memories here. I feel happy every time I look at this page.
It looks like fun! That must be nice. A big part of the appeal of the TRAVELER'S notebook is that the essence of the person using it shows up in the pages, so whereas you wouldn't ordinarily show people your notebook or organizer, the TRAVELER'S notebook is so interesting that you'll want to show someone.
What about people who, on the other hand, have nothing to write about? The TRAVELER'S notebook is so stylish, some people may feel they need to write something a bit more significant...
Many people say that, but really, anything is fine. While it is indeed fun to show people, that does not mean you have to make yours cool-looking. Even if you write something that seems meaningless at first, you may look back on it with a different perspective in the future, so I think people should just write whatever comes to mind.
Also, there are some people who say that their schedule management and notes are mostly digital, but surprisingly they use the TRAVELER'S notebook.
Why is that?
With the spread of digitalization, things like paper and fountain pens are being reconsidered. People who like digital things are usually people who love stuff in general, so many of these people find something they can relate to in the TRAVELER'S notebook. Also, it is not a mere record of events. One of the characteristics of handwriting is that it leaves behind the emotions felt at the time of writing, and it is this that makes paper more fun to look back on. That is why, for instance, you may want to keep work stuff digital, but write private things in the TRAVELER'S notebook.
So there's no set way to use it, you can just use it however you want!
Exactly! Whether writing or drawing, something that moved you or something you just thought up on the spot, or even if you don't write in it every day, the most important thing is to keep writing, and more than anything else, to have fun. Incidentally, the good news for those who think they have bad handwriting is that, with the TRAVELER'S notebook, even quirky handwriting appears distinctive thanks to the leather cover. Everyone says that I have a bad handwriting, and I agree. But I've felt that, too, so it must be true.
Users can feel the passion of the creator
Besides you, Mr. Iijima, how many others are involved in the development of the current TRAVELER'S notebook?
The central members are me, the designer, and a member of the production control staff--a total of three people. We three have handled the development and quality control of the notebook this whole time, and I place great importance on our sense of solidarity and trust. I think it is precisely because there were three people cooperating on the product that we were able to make something satisfactory.
Just three people! So these three people determine what to do with the TRAVELER'S notebook.
That's right. I am 49 years old, and the designer is 12 years younger than me, so when we make the TRAVELER'S notebook or other items, we try to make something both she and I agreed. So while the TRAVELER'S notebook may seem masculine at first glance, it is actually quite popular among women as well.
It certainly does have a somewhat androgynous aura. You mentioned that you placed great importance on solidarity a moment ago. What kind of vision does your team share regarding the TRAVELER'S notebook future?
This is business, so we do have to set concrete goals, but don't think that is something we should be bound by. In the end, the three of us share the same vision for the future. For instance, the singer-songwriter Toshiaki Yamada performs live at our TRAVELER'S notebook Factory every year, and together with him, we were able to release a CD last year called notebook song in which Yamada sings about the TRAVELER'S notebook. The CD jacket was designed by the Traveler's team designer and created at our factory, and that in itself was a lot of fun.
The way you talk conveys just how fun it was!
I've shared with the others that I hope to find new ways of expanding on the TRAVELER'S notebook in the future.
Like we do at Tokyu Hands, you collaborate with a variety of distinctive companies. Is this one way of expanding the TRAVELER'S notebook?
That's right, by expanding the TRAVELER'S notebook through collaborations, I hope to create an opportunity for as many people as possible to start writing something in a notebook. Once, a comment on a blog I wrote about the TRAVELER'S notebook said, "This made me want to start something new", which made me very happy. You see, when I was in school, I played in a band, which was a very constructive experience, like I was saved by music. Looking at this comment made me think that the TRAVELER'S notebook could be that constructive experience for someone else, like the music that saved me.
What a great story!
I think it is essential that we who are making the notebook have enthusiasm and work with joy if we want to create a notebook that gives people vitality or pushes them to make a step forward in a new direction. In terms of collaboration with other companies, our first was Star Ferry in Hong Kong, which I had already liked and asked to work with us. We called on all our connections, and thanks to this, were able to create a TRAVELER'S notebook that came with a Star Ferry boarding pass. That moment was a dream come true.
Star Ferry Collaboration "Traveler's Star Edition" * Limited 2013 Edition
It must be really nice to get to work with a brand you already liked!
It is the same with the CD, the TRAVELER'S notebook helps spread our view of the world. That what makes our work even more fun, and we want people using the TRAVELER'S notebook to experience that feeling for themselves.
So using the TRAVELER'S notebook means that your world expands?
Yes, and there are many other things other than the blog comment I mentioned earlier that bring me joy. There was an event in Los Angeles, U.S.A. where people there showed one another the TRAVELER'S notebook that they normally use. I was really moved by this sight... I thought how wonderful it was that the TRAVELER'S notebook could connect people to users overseas.
It must be because your team created this from the standpoint of something you yourselves liked that you have so many fans both in Japan and overseas. It's that not everything is calculated. I think the passion, affection, and excitement we had while making the notebook really comes through to the customer through this product. I mean, I am one of those customers!
In marketing terms, this is called "empathy." That said, we were not consciously using that as a method, but rather just kept thinking, "What could we do to make this more interesting?" or "How could we make this more like the TRAVELER'S notebook?" and just kept pursuing ways we could make it more fun. Nowadays "good" is not enough. I believe what is important is the thoughts and commitment of the creator.
Is there anything you think of when making items?
The thing I am always conscious of is the music I love. For example, if I take products or promotions to be an album or live show, I think, first was this one, so second should be this one. It is fun for me to think of it in terms of music, and it also makes the points I think are cool more readily apparent. I make the notebook with the other two by sharing these kinds of concepts and asking them to share what they love or enjoy.
Right, I'd love to do something fun together with you! I look forward to working with you more in the future!
The allure of this thoughtful TRAVELER'S notebook created by Mr. Iijima is how it goes beyond being just a mere notebook to help you discover a new side of you. Those who want to live every day as though it were a journey, give this notebook a try.
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