I visit New York City fairly regularly, and I've always maintained a short list of stationery stores that I visit when I'm in town: Fountain Pen Hospital, Kinokuniya, C.W. Pencil Enterprise, and McNally Jackson. Due to rising real estate prices, the stationery (and especially the fountain pen) scene isn't nearly as vibrant as it was five years ago, after Art Brown International Pen Shop and others were forced to close. This past fall I decided to mix things up a bit and visit a store that I'd never been to before but had heard a lot about: Muji.
I'd describe Muji as a Japanese Ikea/Crate & Barrel-type store that sells their own brand of household goods, including kitchenwares, candles, and of course, stationery. In their larger stores and online, Muji sells larger items like rugs and furniture. I had heard good things about Muji notebooks and gel pens, and spent a half-hour or so rifling through the pen display in the SoHo store on a Saturday afternoon. Here's what I came away with:
Muji sells inexpensive gel pens that are available in a range of tip sizes, from the standard .7mm to the ultra-fine .25mm (in some models). I was mainly interested in how Muji could execute on the finer end of that range, in the .25mm and .38mm tip sizes, which is difficult to do well. I grabbed a small handful of pens in black, blue, blue-black and orange, and overall, was pleased with how they performed, especially given the price point. Other ultra-fine tip Japanese gel pens like the Hi-Tec-C and the Uni Signo DX can run as much as $3.50 per pen, depending on where you buy. With the exception of the .25mm needle-tip pen ($3), Muji's offerings generally are priced at $1.50-1.75 per pen.
Of all of the pens I tested, my favorite is probably the standard round .38mm conical-tip stick pen. Both the black and the orange write consistently, don't skip, and the round bodies are comfortable to hold. My second favorite is the .25mm needle-tip stick pen, which is a nice shade of blue black but writes an extremely fine line and is uncomfortable to grip for long periods of time. I would not purchase the polycarbonate click pens again. The orange pen barely writes at all, and the blue pen writes inconsistently, alternating between skipping and blobbing. The hexagonal plastic bodies dig into my fingers, making for an awkward and uncomfortable writing experience.
Takeaways and Where to Buy
Two out of three ain't bad, right? Next time I find myself in a Muji store, I'd have no hesitation about picking up a fistful of the round stick pens. I don't really have a use case for the .25mm needle-tip, but it's a good writer for something with that fine of a point. Based on my experience, I'd recommend that people take a pass on the click pens. There are better options out there. Eventually, I plan on testing out Muji's notebooks, mechanical pencils, multipens, highlighters, and even - maybe - their aluminum fountain pen.
If you don't have a Muji Store anywhere near you, most of their goods are available online, either via Muji directly or through Amazon. Currently, Amazon has several deals where you can order an assortment of Muji conical gel pens or the needle-tip stick pens in various colors, and there's even a stationery sample pack that allows you to test Muji's pens AND notebooks. If, like me, you prefer very fine gel pens and ballpoints, but tend to lose "disposable" pens and don't like to invest what can be a ton of money in Hi-Tec-C's and Signo DX's, give Muji a shot.
Disclaimer: I purchased the pens featured in this review with my own funds for my own use. This post contains affiliate links.