A couple of years ago I wrote a post on my quest to find the ideal notebook. I’d grown tired of jumping from one PDA to another – first PalmPilot, then a Sony something-or-other and then iPhone/iPad, losing data, notes and contacts along the way. I realised, looking at my shelves, that I had diaries and a Filofax from twenty-five years ago with all my words and doodles intact, yet 95% of the notes I’d tapped out on little screens in the intervening years had disappeared into the ether – so it was back to pen and paper. As I explained last time I’ve been working my way through different notebooks – Moleskine (nice idea but shoddily made), CIAK (you need a brick to keep them flat) and Cartesio (cool diaries but the notebook paper is as suitable for ink pen as an Andrex loo roll).
Two years ago I’d finally come across the Midori Traveller’s Notebook and of all the journals I’d found this seemed the most promising. It was the essence of simplicity – leather binder with a notebook held in place by an elastic band. The book was presented and packaged with that groovy artisanal minimalism that the Japanese do really well. It came in a plain cardboard box along with a muslin sock to keep it in. When you opened the package up it smelt of dried cow and chemicals – and the binder was covered in a suspicious looking white talcum powder which apparently sweats out of the leather – proving how far it is from the plastic ICI-vat composite used on the other ‘leather-bound’ notebooks. The internet was filled with enthusiastic Midori fans posting pictures of their pimped journals, some so elaborate you struggled to see the book itself as the amount of stickers, fabric, pictures, belts, poppers and adornments had transformed it into something that looked like a deranged Laura Ashley sofa. While the journal only came with a single 60-page blank insert you could order a range of add-ons, or make your own simply by cutting paper to size and sticking it through the elastic band.
So have I found the notebook I was looking for? Well I now have three MTNs– two standard size and one passport size which doubles as a wallet, so I guess the answer’s yes. For a brief period I was in two minds – on occasion the Midori felt more like a pack of cards held together by a rubber band than an actual book – but daily use has convinced me that of all the notebooks I’ve used this is by far the best quality and nicest to use. In time-honoured fashion here’s a run-through of why I think the Traveller’s Notebook is great and a description of how I’ve set up my own.
I think there are two things that make the book so pleasant to use. Firstly every component exudes the kind of quality that you only find in Japan. It’s a bit odd using this term in reference to a piece of leather, some string and elastic and blank paper but the design and construction has been carefully thought through to the nth degree. I was brought up to use a fountain pen and to me anything else feels like trying to write on sandpaper with a chisel. Most notebooks these days skimp on paper quality and it doesn’t really matter if you use a biro or ball pen, but the results from an ink pen can truly look miserable. I’ve yet to come across any bleed or feathering on any of the Midori inserts, even on the ones with thinner paper. The leather is thick and ages really well – scuffs, scratches and darkening adding to the whole Book of Forbidden Lore look. Inside I’ve added some clear pockets to the inside cover, a plastic zip sleeve, a card pocket and three notebooks, one for work, one for creative ideas and one as a journal where I make notes about my travels and glue tickets, mementoes and (mainly) restaurant cards. Removing/adding inserts is a doddle, you just strap them in with rubber bands, although realistically the size of the leather cover means you’re limited to three maximum.
This is another aspect to the Midori that I really like – I can’t put my finger on it but it encourages you to customise and personalise the book. It lacks the po-faced filing-cabinet constraints of the Filofax, though you can build your own Getting Things Done process around it, if you need to, and the web abounds with different examples. The casual boho feel to the journal encourages scribbles, doodles and random jottings in a way that others don’t. One very nice addition is a pack of clear stickers that create business-card size pockets on the pages so you can add mementoes as you go along (there’s also double-sided stickers and post-its designed to slot into the binder).
The Midori Traveller’s Notebook isn’t for everyone. Look past the starry-eyed hipster mystique and you’re staring at a bit of leather, elastic and paper for around £40 (inserts average at £4 each). But there’s something about it that grows on you – apart from the quality and clever design I think it’s the combination of how quickly you can make the journal uniquely your own, and the fact that you are completely unconstrained in how you put together the book, ideally with inserts you’ve made yourself, thereby saving a bob or two. It’s not a diary for the tidy-minded – mine is scuffed, scribbled and doodled in and stuffed with bits and bobs – but emerging from the walled gardens of Apple or Filofax it feels great to have found a note-taking vehicle that echoes the chaotic mess inside my head.
I get most of my Midori stuff from The Journal Shop. Occasionally they run out of stock but they’re always responsive and the service is great.