Along with a couple other Japanese stationery brands, L!fe paper has slowly started to gain popularity in the few recent years. Especially here in Europe I have noticed quite a few shops started carrying the brand. It's peculiar how brands that have been around for ages (with L!fe paper we're talking WWII-era, they started 1946!) suddenly break through in different parts of the world after years of being relatively unknown. Obviously social media and the internet have something to do with that, digitalisation isn't always bad!
L!fe is a Japan-based brand, specialised in handmade paper and notebooks. Their notebooks are immediately recogniseable by the traditional, vintage-esque, cover designs in soft pastel colors, and a glued black spine. L!fe notebooks are partially handmade, utilising traditional letterpress methods. (they regularly post videos of the production process on INSTAGRAM that are really cool to watch!)
If there's one thing I like about notebooks, it's their portability. That's why I usually lean towards medium-sized notebooks like a standard A5. The Tsubame however, is quite a bit bigger, and sits somewhere in between A5 and A4 (B5 size, 16.7cm x 25cm / 6.6x9.8In). On the flipside, the larger pages are useful for longer writing sessions and notetaking.
It of course depends on what you want to do with your notebook, but I personally still prefer slightly more compact journals that are easier to take with me. The combination of a relatively thin notebook (available in 54, 80 and 100 pages), along with the softcover and glued spine makes for a notebook that opens up flat, and is comfortable to write in. (That is, if you have a table or hard surface to place it on, for notes 'on the go' it's a bit impractical)
|An index page is the only luxury you'll get. No pagemarker, no pockets, no elastic closure.|
Part of the appeal, but also my only point of criticism, is the paper quality. L!fe specialised in producing paper early on, so I expected something good. But this honestly surpassed all expectations! The light cream-colored paper isn't extraordinarily heavy (83gsm, about the same as Rhodia notepad paper), but it takes fountain pen inks like a champ. Honestly it might be the best paper I've used to date.
|Impressively little ghosting (bleedthrough)!|
It shows shading really well, it doesn't feather or bleed. Even better, writing barely shows through on the other side of the page. Even when I threw a 10mm calligraphy dip nib (super wet!) at it, the only thing you could see on the other side was some minor ghosting. (Whereas paper like Leuchtturm, which is also good quality, shows more showthrough and even some bleed) The paper is absolutely fountain-pen friendly, and it's one of the only notebooks I like to use on both sides of the pages.
|unobtrusive light grey ruling|
BUT... As you may very well know, the smoothest paper is also the most finnicky. Oils from your hands can transfer to the page when you write, which can cause pens to skip and stutter. Unfortunately, the Tsubame notebook behaves like this in the worst way possible. I've had some nibs simply give up completely, especially wider nibs wouldn't provide the ink flow you'd expect, which can be really frustrating. I always use it with a guide sheet (just any piece of scrap paper will do) to keep my hands from touching the paper. Using a guide sheet might be a bit of a hassle, but given the excellent paper quality I really can't complain.
|It even outperforms rhodia dotpad paper in terms of bleedthrough and it shows off the ink with more depth.|
Needless to say, I'm thoroughly impressed with the Tsubame notebook! The design is different and unique, and it handles fountain pens like a dream. What you see is what you get: It's a barebones notebook, no hardcover, no features (apart from a content table). But in terms of paper quality, it's worth every penny! Talking about pennies, the Tsubame notebooks are priced quite decently, and range from around 7.5 EUR to 12 EUR (for the B5 size) depending on the amount of pages.
Note: this notebook was sent to me by Scrittura Elegante, free of charge, so I could write this review. I was in no way influenced in the making of this review, the opinions shared in this review are completely my own! This post does not contain affilate links.