Mitsubishi and Tombow sit atop the Japanese woodcase pencil manufacturing industry. Smaller manufacturers such as Kita-Boshi, Camel, Kirin, and Eyeball also have market segments. But there are also other companies who aren’t manufacturers per se, but have a pencil line. The most notable is Pentel, who have brought some great products to the market over the years. Pentel sadly seems to be leaving the market, with the Black Polymer 999 and Craft Design Technology pencils both withdrawn. (This report is due for revision.)
Sailor has also sold pencils in the past. And the California Republic Palomino is made in Japan. Checking Bundoki, Pencils.jp, and Rakuten shows many other makes and brands of pencils. A look at the Japanese pencil association website indicates many members are involved in the pencil manufacturing infrastructure, and not full manufacturers themselves. So presumably some combination of these firms supply the other sellers.
From Ohto, (Tokyo, Japan, founded in 1929) we have one more fascinating and super high quality pencil, the Ohto 9000. Ohto is known for fountain pens and mechanical pencils, and I only recently learned that they also have a line of woodcase pencils. The products are exceedingly hard to find. Stationery vendors and auction sites don’t seem to even have a whiff of them – I thought I would never see an example. As best as I can guess, Ohto commissions the manufacture of these pencils for limited export to Taiwan.
The pencils have simple matte finishes in black or brown. They are plainly marked:
Ohto Pencil Japan HB
For Retouching & Special Drawing 9000
The only issue I have with the pencil presentation is the labelling with a metallicized sticker at the end to be sharpened. The sticker is lightweight yet very strong. I am afraid it might “gum up” or degrade a desktop sharpener, either electric or manual. Yet removing the sticker leaves a sticky residue.
Sharpening reveals a beautiful cedar grain – truly exceptional.
The pencil leaves a rich, saturated, dark mark, really first-rate. On a Rhodia pad, the lines don’t easily smudge, yet erase easily with a Mitsubishi Boxy eraser.
There are a lot of good or “good enough” pencils out there, but it is really exciting to find one that is so exceptional. I compared it with the best in the business – the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni and Tombow Mono 100. While the Ohto does not have the fancy finish or the precision lettering, the lead seems to belong in this category. In my testing of the HB grade, I thought that the Hi-Uni was perhaps smoother and waxier, while the Mono 100 had the most precision and and ability to keep a point. The Ohto seemed somewhere in the middle, which is very good company. I haven’t tested other grades, nor used it over an extended period of time.
I hope Ohto might consider further export. The limited distribution unfortunately means this excellent pencil will not be known in most parts of the world.
Some further notes: A box of twelve includes six in brown and six in black.
A very attractive shiny black tin with a set of grades is also available:
A few other notes. The boxes and a few loose pencils (presumably older) have the JIS mark. And one has the initials “K.B.P.” imprinted. Which brings me to some speculation – the cardboard box strongly resembles that of the Kita-Boshi 9606 pencil. The painted caps and matte finish also resemble Kita-Boshi’s work. I would guess that Ohto contracted Kita-Boshi as the manufacturer.
My sincere thanks to blog reader and pencil aficionado Robert for sending me these pencils. Robert contacted me and asked if I would like to try an Ohto pencil. Little did I know that such a treasure trove of great pencils was headed my way!
18 Replies to “Ohto 9000 pencil”
WHAT? The Pentel Polymer 999 and the Craft Design both WITHDRAWN???? When? This is terrible news.
Cool find and interesting review. Hmm, I wasn’t impressed by the Pentel Polymer 999 HB pencils I tried, but perhaps I should give one of the softer grades a chance b4 the disappear completely.
I have an Ohto fountain pen, but did not know they make pencils as well. Thank you for this review.
Great review. For a long time, I actually didn’t bother buying the Ohto pencils because their finish to me was a bit too humble to suggest a high-end writing utensil, and their price a bit too low (the ’18’ on the foil sticker is the going price for singles in Taiwan Dollars, which converts to less than $0.60 USD). Since more expensive and better-finished pencils (Mars Lumograph, Castell 9000, Mitsubishi 9800) are also available, it’s easy to dismiss the Ohto as a lesser product. It doesn’t help that within the internet community, the Ohto pencils are completely absent from almost any discussion, leaving one to speculate that they’re not worth anyone’s time.
Little did I know it was mostly because nobody had ever seen or used them. After reading Kossy’s post, I realized that outside of Taiwan, they’re really not found anywhere. My curiosity got to me and I was surprised at how well they wrote. Of course, I had nobody to confirm or deny that opinion, and I thought if I was right, then more people deserve to know about it, even if there is no super-convenient source for ordering them internationally like there is for the Hi-Uni and Mono 100.
I agree that those foil price stickers on the singles are irritating. I am guessing one could use solvents or perhaps heat to help remove them, but I haven’t tried them myself, and have a few with residue around the point much like in the first photo. Otherwise, I knife-sharpen without removing the sticker, though it usually isn’t as pretty as the point you can get from a nice rotary sharpener.
Good catch on the KBP marking…I didn’t notice that at all.
Thanks again Stephen for reviewing this, and I’m thrilled to know that I wasn’t completely delusional in considering it a bit of a diamond in the rough.
Regarding the adhesive residue, have you tried using vegetable oil to remove it? Basically moisten a paper towel with a little vegetable oil, then rub the sticker adhesive off with the paper towel. I also read somewhere that mayonnaise can be used instead of vegetable oil.
It doesn’t remove all adhesive, but for sticker residue, it should do the trick.
Regarding the Ohto pencils, it is good to see a high-quality pencil at a reasonable price. The pencil reminds me of another black pencil of Taiwan origin that was simply labeled as an “Office Pencil”, however the lead was unusually smooth and dark.
Unfortunately, I could see glue (and some empty space!) between the two wooden halves, so it was obviously one of the cheaper pencils. It still sharpened well.
Just a note about the adhesive removal: lighter fluid (available at most drugstores) works extremely well . I have a bottle on hand for exactly this purpose. Just a little on a cloth, a bit of rubbing, and you’re done. Very quick, and with no worry at all about damage to lacquer finishes.
My thanks to all the commenters, and special thanks to Robert for making this post possible.
Regarding the sticker residue – thank you for the suggestions.
I swung by a bookstore earlier today and noticed some people checking out pencils. Oddly, the Ohto was one of the only ones that nobody really considered. People were picking out Grip 2001s, Mars Ergosofts and Lumographs, and Mitsubishi 9800s, while largely ignoring the Ohtos, which had rather greater representation than all the other brands. It’s like the black and brown are a camouflage, or perhaps the branding and finish aren’t particularly inspiring. I’m sure they sell reasonably well here given their price, but part of me thinks that it could be much more successful.
I wonder how popular this pencil could be if they put a little more into the finishing. It’s not bad, but the qualities that make the Ohto stand out are things that most people never discover, as the pencils are always sold unsharpened.
Then again, I question just how popular the better wooden pencils are anyway, and whether it’d be worthwhile for Kita-Boshi or whoever is/was making the Ohto 9000 to upgrade it significantly…particularly in a market where Pentel seems to be discouraged.
Thank you for that very interesting post! I find the design of the pencils in the last photo very cool.
Thought you would like to see a school supply list from this year. Look at the comment the teacher wrote about buying only a North American brand of pencil. Interesting!
Gunther, thank you for the comment.
Misty, I suppose Japanese pencils aren’t so well known in Saskatchewan?
i’m such a fan of the hi-uni’s for drawing that i’m thrilled to see another pencil come up to par with it. those initial results look promising and it looks like it has a resilient lead. i really hope the ohto 9000 finds its way to the states.
I wonder how old the supply of Ohto pencils in Taiwan is, and if they’re even made anymore. In any event, they’re a pretty good, inexpensive pencil. They seem roughly comparable lead-wise to the California Republic Palomino in terms of darkness and point strength/retention. I’d say the Ohto is a dry smooth, while the Palomino has a bit more of an oily-waxy feel. They are both slightly fragile in HB or softer with a very fine point…I get more breaks from them than I do from either the Hi-Uni or the Mono 100 while writing. Could just be that the Ohto is cheap and plentiful where I live, so perhaps I’m less careful when using them.
Were Ohto hitching a ride on the back of Faber Castell 9000’s?? Also “for retouching and special drawing” – either this is one of those “Japanese/English” expressions or OHTO were/are trying to find a market niche for this pencil. As a buyer it would actually turn me off purchasing, thinking it was for a special use only.
Hi! Full Disclosure: I am with OHTO Americas.
Nice to see a fair and yet unusual review for OHTO Hard Case Pencils. Usually what I come across is for the Promecha series or the Ceramic pens. If there is enough interest, I can look into seeing if I can bring a small number of these into the states. Thanks again! Feel free to post on our FB page if you are interested.
Also, if you are interested in reviewing any other OHTO products, let me know!
T.J. – OHTO Americas
Ted Joffs, that’s very exciting! I am not on Facebook (and doubt that I will ever be) but I am very interested in some woodcase pencils from OHTO. However, I live in Germany, and as far as I know there is no distributor for your products. Is there a way to contact you for some samples? This would be great. – By the way, I am the one behind the Lexikaliker weblog.
Hi Ted Joffs,
I’m just a woodcase pencil user (no state-of-the-art blog maker, sorry) and I wonder where to purchase ohto pencils in Barcelona. Thanks.
After this review I went in search of where to find these attractive pencils in the Americas, and I chanced upon this facebook page:
you can order through this email address, firstname.lastname@example.org
The lady who runs the store is very nice, and I’ve already gotten to enjoying some of these fine pencils in HB.