Tomoe River: The Full Story
Update 2021-10-28: Tomoe River lives on! Tomoegawa just announced that they are selling the rights to Tomoe River. The new owner and manufacturer is Sanzen Paper, in turn owned by paper giant Chuetsu Pulp. Sanzen will start shipping Tomoe River on November 29th. For more on this, listen to Tokyo Inklings emergency episode 3.
Update 2021-11-13: I’ve tested Sanzen’s new paper! (Spoiler: It’s good.)
In 1981, Tomoegawa introduced Tomoe River, a lightweight, coated paper stock. It was originally designed for commercial printing, and the very first use case was Bible printing. Magazines and booklets soon followed.
A few years later, Tomoe River for techo (手帳), or planners, was introduced. While currently only available in cream and white, Tomoe River for techo was initially sold in several colors, including blue and pink.
The modern Tomoe River lineup consists of three paper products:
- matte, mainly for printing, available in 25-84 gsm.
- techo, for planners, only available in 52 gsm.
- N, available in 68 gsm. Initially, N was meant for printing (印刷用), but a version designed for stationery use (筆記用) was later developed.
Note that N does not mean “new Tomoe River”, i.e. the post-2019 version specifically.
In April 2019, Tomoegawa announced that the machine producing Tomoe River, Shizuoka Plant #7, would be decommissioned at the end of the year, citing declining demand. However, production would be moved to another machine, Shizuoka Plant #9. This is when the discussion about new versus old Tomoe River started. New Tomoe River is paper produced by machine #9.
Tomoegawa has since clarified (see below) that production of both the 52 gsm techo and 68 gsm N for stationery was moved from machine #7 to machine #9. In other words, the N variant was originally produced by the old machine. However, since moving production, N is now made to order.
Sakae Technical Paper, which is the sales agent for Tomoe River and also produces its own line of notebooks and loose-leaf paper, confirmed to me that they have not produced any notebooks with paper from the #9 machine. The only Sakae product with “new” Tomoe River is their Limited Edition New Machinery Papers 52 gsm loose sheets with product code
In April this year, Sakae announced that a long list of Tomoe River SKUs would be discontinued. Clarifying this to me in writing, Sakae says that this announcement was specifically about their products made from “old” Tomoe River, i.e. not the new loose-leaf paper. Production of this paper would continue, for now, they confirmed.
In May, Tomoegawa dropped a bombshell: In their medium-term management report, published on the same day as the latest earnings report, the company outlined a number of initiatives to bring it back to profitability. One of the concrete items mentioned is a planned shutdown of Shizuoka machine #9, i.e. the machine that makes “new” Tomoe River, by the end of this financial year.
This is when the rumors, hoarding, and panic in the pen community started. Making matters worse, false rumors about production already being stopped due to wood pulp prices, were propagated by major stationery blogs.
Earlier today, I reached out to Tomoegawa asking for more information. They replied that the plan is indeed to shut down the paper-making machine during the second half of this financial year, but that they plan to outsource production of Tomoe River. Details are not yet finalized.
So, in short, while Tomoegawa will no longer manufacture Tomoe River after this year, production is likely to continue elsewhere.
For more on this, subscribe to Tokyo Inklings and listen to episodes 32 and 33. CY and I have covered this topic in detail. We are likely to continue the conversation in episode 34.
Below is the verbatim response from Tomoegawa, which I have been given express permission to publish.
→マット・手帳・Ｎ（６８Ｎ）の３種類です。 Ｎ（６８Ｎ）については、当初は印刷用だけでしたが、筆記特性が欲しいというご要望があり、文具用も作りました。 Ｎ(６８Ｎ）は、７号機時代から、印刷用・筆記用で生産していましたが、２０２０年１月以降の９号機移管後からは、筆記用のみ受注生産しております。
There are three types of products in Tomoe River series. 1) Matte, 2) Notebook 3) N (68N). Tomoe River 68N was originally designed for printing application and hand writing was not considered.
After some time, ‘68N for stationery’ has been developed with superior hand writing properties. Both printing and stationery grade of 68 N were produced by No. 7 machine when it was in operation. After Tomoe River production was transferred to No. 9 machine in Jan. 2020, only stationery grade has been produced on make-to-order basis.
→２０２０年１月以降、７号機から９号機へ転抄しましたのは、「５２ｇ/㎡手帳の白・クリーム」「６８Ｎ文具用の白・クリーム（受注生産）」です。 SAKAE様は、７号機で最終まとめ生産を弊社に発注し、これまで運用されていましたが、この度、その原紙在庫が無くなってきたので、 トモエリバーＦＰを在庫限りで販売終了にするとの事です。 https://www.sakaetp.co.jp/pdf/20210426.pdf
The products transferred from No. 7 machine to No. 9 machine in Jan. 2020 were 52g notebook (white and cream) and 68N stationery (white and cream by make-to-order)
Sakae technical paper has placed a P/O to us for their inventory at the last production by No. 7 machine. Since they’ve recently depleted it, they made an announcement about the discontinuation of Tomoe River FP when their current stock is sold.
As you mentioned, No. 9 machine will also be stopped in the second half of this financial year. Regarding the replacement of No. 9 machine Tomoe River, we’re studying contract manufacturing. Once it’s developed, we plan to introduce it to our channel partners.