The Kuru Toga – a disappointment
The Kuru Toga is a mechanical pencil from uni / Mitsubishi pencil. In Japan it has been available for more than a year. The plastic version is now officially distributed in the UK and other countries, while the successor, the new Kuru Toga pencil, is already available in Japan.
The Kuru Toga’s unique selling point is that its lead rotates which keeps the tip sharp when writing. When pressing the lead against the paper to write or when lifting it the gears of the “Kuru Toga Engine” revolve, rotating the lead slightly.
After reading a review of the Kuru Toga on Dave’s Mechanical Pencils I was really impressed and quite excited when I saw that the Kuru Toga is now officially available in the UK. Cultpens.com sells this mechanical pencil in many different colours for £ 7.99 (~ € 8.90). I bought mine from Ryman, a High Street chain, for £ 4.99 (~ € 5.50), but unfortunately they only seem to stock the black version.
My first surprise, when I saw the packaging, was that the advantages of the Kuru Toga Engine were not advertised as much as I expected. Somehow I expected this pen to stand out from the other pens on the shelf, but this wasn’t the case at all. For the designers who created the packaging the Nano Dia leads seem to be nearly as big a selling point as the Kuru Toga Engine. If you are in marketing or advertising it might be difficult to resist telling the potential customer about the “400 million nano diamonds” in each lead. Yes, nano is a buzzword (see PhD Comics) and diamonds sound very precious, but instead of just throwing numbers and cool words at customers I would have preferred an explanation why having 400 million nano diamonds in a lead is an advantage and how that helps to deliver super strength and a smooth, crisp line.
Using the Kuru Toga for writing was a big disappointment. The pressure I exert when writing “normally” does not seem to get the lead to rotate. I could of course press the pencil down harder to get the gears to revolve and consequently the lead to rotate, but that is not how I would normally write. Real world use has shown that when I write in a hurry I use more pressure and the lead will rotate, but the lead should rotate whenever I write,not only when I write in a hurry. When using more pressure the lines tend to get wider anyway and I got better results, i.e. thinner lines, by rotating the pencil in my hand.
Two possibilities come to mind when looking at the problem of the non-rotating lead.
- It might be a substandard pencil, and other Kuru Toga Engines work with less pressure. This would would mean that there is a quality control problem at uni / Mitsubishi pencil. This is probably not the case.
- I might not press the pencil down hard enough to get the gears to revolve. This could be because of many years of using fountain pens (which do not need a lot of pressure) and a relatively infrequent use of ballpoint pens (which need much more pressure). When I went to school you had to write with a fountain pen and today I still like to use fountain pens and avoid ballpoint pens. My wife, for example, is using much more pressure when writing.
The Kuru Toga has been a disappointment for me, as the lead is not rotating, eliminating the advantage of this pencil while the disadvantages of this pencil remain:
- the relatively high price for a mechanical pencil compared to similar pens made from plastic …more than twice the price of a Rotring Tikky, which is usually £ 1.99 (~ € 2.20), but to be fair: the Tikky does not come with a pack of replacement leads.
- and the inability to fill in as many spare leads as in some other mechanical pencils (maximum 4 – 6 leads, depending on length and whether you try hard to squeeze them in)
It is difficult to predict, but my guess would be that the market share of pencils using the Kuru Toga engine or similar mechanisms will increase, because they are great of they work for you. On the other hand most mechanical pencils still do not even have a retractable sleeve and most consumers do not really seem to care but buy what is available and cheap.
Prices and exchange rate: November 2009