Platinum 3776 Century: Kanazawa-haku “Sho Ryu (Ascending Dragon)”

Ever had a pen that caught your eye, but you were on the fence about it due to price or other reasons?

The Platinum 3776 Century Kanazawa-haku “Ascending Dragon” is one such pen for me. On one hand, the aesthetic is so bling that I do not see myself using it at work, ever. On the other hand, the aesthetic is exactly what draws me to the pen. This isn’t the gold pen of my grandfather’s era, used for flexing that you’ve made it. It’s a work of art.

I’ve been eyeing it for a while, and recently it came at the right price on Amazon (less than half the RRP in fact!) which prompted me to bite the bullet.

What’s In The Box

I was a little miffed that the pen didn’t come with one of those nice wooden boxes that higher-end Japanese pens sometimes comes in. Oddly enough, some sites show the pen in such a box – perhaps those are export versions? (This one came directly from Japan.) Mine came in a plain black Platinum box with a black cardboard sleeve. Inside are:

  • The pen
  • 1 converter (installed in the pen)
  • 1 cartridge (black ink)
  • Warranty card
  • User’s Manual
  • A small slip introducing the particular Ascending Dragon model

The Pen In Detail

This rendition of the kanazawa-haku pen features the “Dragon and Clouds” motif by Tawaraya Sotatsu (俵屋宗達) from the Edo era.

The use of gold leaf (Kanazawa-haku) gives this pen a distinctive glow and brilliance. Depending on the angle from which light hits, the gold leaf creates areas of dark and light, giving it some 3D depth. The scales on the dragon motif itself seem to be done with the Maki-e technique, making it contrast nicely with the background. According to the product insert, they use a “modern maki-e technique”, but I’m not sure what that really means. Because the artwork and gold leaf are applied by hand, no 2 pens are exactly the same. There seems to be a thin layer of protective lacquer (does not seem to be urushi though) over it, so although you can feel an interesting texture while using the pen, it should hold up well over time without the gold leaf coming off.

About the Kanazawa-haku gilding technique

Kanazawa-haku (金沢箔 in Kanji) , or Kanazawa gold leaf, is a traditional craft that originated in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan. Kanazawa is renowned for its high-quality gold leaf production, which dates back over 400 years. Apparently, the gold leaf used for the famous Golden Pavilion in Kyoto was produced in Kanazawa!

The process of creating Kanazawa-haku involves several steps. First, pure gold is repeatedly beaten with a hammer until it becomes incredibly thin, resulting in gold leaf sheets that are about 1/10,000th of a millimeter in thickness. These gold leaf sheets are then cut into squares and placed between layers of tissue paper.

Image by David Lisbona (link)

To apply Kanazawa-haku, a special adhesive called nikawa, made from animal collagen, is brushed onto the desired surface. The gold leaf is carefully transferred from the tissue paper onto the adhesive surface. The craftsmen use specialized brushes and bamboo tools to manipulate and smooth the gold leaf, ensuring an even application. This process requires precision, patience and delicacy to prevent tearing or wrinkling of the delicate gold leaf.

Capping & Posting

As this pen is from the 3776 Century range, it features the Slip & Seal mechanism inside the cap that prevents drying out of ink. The cap is threaded, and twists off in about 2 turns which is decent.

As expected for a Japanese pen, the capping experience is impeccable – the grooves are perfectly cut, resulting in a smooth twisting motion with no resistance. However, the cap does not always align perfectly – by this I mean that sometimes, the dragon motif ends up looking wrong. I’m still trying to figure out if there is a way to consistently cap it, such that the motif aligns perfectly.

This pen can be posted. However, I would be careful about posting in view of the gold foil overlay. (I’m not sure if repeated posting will etch off the protective layer and gold leaf over time!) Also, the cap is rather long and I find that posting makes it back-weighted and a little unwieldy. The size of the pen body is very decent, and makes for a comfortable writing experience even without posting.

Filling Mechanism

The #3776 Century range uses a cartridge/converter system, and this one is no exception. Unlike Pilot, Platinum uses a single converter type, which greatly simplifies things. (On the other hand, their cartridges are proprietary!)

The stupid iPhone lens makes me look like I have spaghetti fingers. They do not look like this in real life, I assure you.

Nib & Feed

This pen comes with a 14K gold nib, in fine, medium, or bold; in my case, I opted for the medium nib.

Check out that characteristic heart-shaped breather hole!

Writing Experience

The nib was tuned well, right out of the box. It glides smoothly over paper, with just a hint of feedback – not the graphite pencil kind of feedback you get from Sailor nibs, but not buttery smooth either. I actually find this level of feedback to be perfect, as that bit of feedback helps me to write in a more controlled manner.

The nib size is a Japanese M – somewhat finer than western medium nibs. It is moderately wet using Iroshizuku ink. I have yet to test out the Slip & Seal mechanism if it really prevents drying, so I will be leaving the pen inked without usage and will update this page again.

I would rate the softness of the nib as average for a gold nib. There is no bounce or true softness to it, but neither is it hard as a nail. It lays down a slightly thicker line with pressure, but it is by no means a flex nib so don’t over-do it.

My Thoughts

This is my first “artsy” Japanese pen, as in the artwork is applied by hand, and I couldn’t have been happier with it. This series comes in 2 other motifs – 1) Pine Tree and Tiger, and 2) Wind God and Thunder God. I personally do not identify with the aesthetics of the other 2, and hence will not be acquiring them. (My wallet is doing a happy jiggly dance right now.)

As the pen is rather gaudy, I do not see myself using it at work or even in social occasions – most likely, I will dedicate it to writing special letters at home, or the like.