About “Pocket Pen” 關於「短鋼」

by Wai Tat Jerry

Broadly speaking, a "pocket pen" refers to any pen with a short length. In this article, we will focus on the "pocket pens" that were popular in Japan from the 1960s to the 1980s. What exactly is a pocket pen? Why was it created, and what makes it special? And why did it become a trend in Japan for twenty years? This article will reveal all the answers!


What is a Pocket Pen?

Different pen manufacturers have different names for this type of pocket pen. For example, Pilot calls it "ショート" (Short), Platinum names it "ポケット" (Pocket), and Sailor refers to it as "ミニ" (Mini). There are also foreign internet users who refer to it as the "Long-short Pen." Although the names may differ, they share several common characteristics:

  1. Shorter than standard pens, typically measuring between 9 and 13 centimeters in length.
  2. The cap and grip section are long, while the pen body is short. When using the pen, you can attach the cap to the back end to extend the pen's length, making it more comfortable to hold.
  3. Designed with a snap-cap that can be easily removed for convenient use.

Size contrast between Platinum 3776 and a vintage Platinum pocket pen, stainless steel, Pt.Alloy nib. (Full article:不鏽鋼桿短鋼)



The Origin of Pocket Pens: Why Were Pocket Pens Created?

Since 2015, when I started collecting pocket pens, I have been searching for their origin. Why did pocket pens become popular in Japan for nearly twenty years, with almost all pen manufacturers in Japan producing them? Unfortunately, despite searching through various books and websites, I had no success. It wasn't until 2019, when I met Mr. Nobuyoshi Arakura from Pilot at Tainan Pen Show, that I finally found the answer. And surprisingly, the reason is subtly related to my birthplace, Hong Kong!



Let's go back to the 1960s. At that time, Japan did not have any short-sleeved dress shirts that could be worn with a tie. Even in the scorching summer, Japanese office workers could only wear long-sleeved shirts, at most opting for white open-collar styles, often enduring the heat and sweating profusely.

Until 1962, the legendary Japanese fashion designer Kenkai Ishizu created a short-sleeved shirt. This shirt was made from Tetoron fabric produced by Teijin, a renowned textile company in Japan. It was highly breathable and comfortable, perfectly suited for Japan's hot summer weather, and it was promoted as being suitable for wearing with a tie.

With its excellent performance and strong promotion, this shirt completely changed the dressing habits of the Japanese people. Wearing short-sleeved shirts with ties became increasingly popular in the workplace.

Kenkai Ishizu named this short-sleeved shirt "ホンコンシャツ" (Hong Kong Shirts).


Advertisement for Teijin's Hong Kong Shirts in 1962. Looking at the Japanese poster from nearly half a century ago with the prominent "HONG KONG" inscription, as a Hong Konger, I always have a sense of wonder. Image source:https://middle-edge.jp/articles/I0000315

Although Mr. Arakura mentioned that the name "Hong Kong Shirts" probably doesn't have any special meaning, the 1950s and 1960s were the heyday of Hong Kong's garment industry, with many Hong Kong manufacturers producing short-sleeved shirts. I prefer to believe that Kenkai Ishizu drew inspiration from Hong Kong.

While clothing manufactured in Hong Kong is now almost extinct, to this day, the name "Hong Kong Shirts" remains synonymous with short-sleeved shirts in Japan.

Advertisement for one of the Hong Kong clothing brands Crocodile Shirts in 1956. Image source: https://www.facebook.com/share/p/i5jfj3Ro31Hf1sqs/?mibextid=Na33Lf




What is the connection between Hong Kong Shirts and Pocket Pens?

This brings us to another design aspect of Hong Kong Shirts, which is the presence of a pocket on the left chest, typically used for carrying a pen or a notepad. Due to the shallow depth of the pocket, if the pen is too long, it can easily slip out. This became particularly embarrassing for Japanese people who often bow, as a slight bow would cause the pen to fall out of the pocket and onto the ground.

The pen companies gradually realized this issue and decided to design new pen models specifically for shirt pockets. Some pen companies chose to shrink their existing pen models proportionally, such as Pilot, which introduced the Sporty 12 (スポーティー 12, model name RS-150) in August 1963. (know more:Sporty 12). Other pen companies chose to take a different approach and created the concept of pocket pens, giving birth to this new trend.


The first "short pen" of Pilot. Know more:Sporty 12.
Pilot Sporty 12 advertisement, image sourced from the internet.

In January 1963, which was the second year since the introduction of Hong Kong Shirts, Sailor launched the first short pen specifically designed for shirt pockets: the Sailor Mini (セーラー ミニ).Sailor Mini. In January 1963, the second year since the introduction of Hong Kong Shirts, Sailor launched the first pocket pen designed specifically for these shirts: the Sailor Mini (セーラー ミニ). Its design established several characteristics of pocket pens: 1) shorter than standard pens, 2) long cap and short body to securely clip onto the shirt pocket, with the cap being able to fit on the back of the pen for writing convenience, and 3) a snap-cap for easy access.

Advertisement for the Sailor Mini in 1963. Image source: https://sailor.co.jp/topics/step/)

The Sailor Mini proved to meet the market demand perfectly. Japan was experiencing rapid economic growth at the time, and people were becoming increasingly affluent. Major factories and companies were also implementing vacation systems, allowing employees to take consecutive holidays.

In the summer of 1963, Japan saw its first vacation boom, with everyone enthusiastically embracing "バカンス" (Vacation). People took advantage of their time off to go shopping, demonstrating unprecedented purchasing power and causing sales of Hong Kong Shirts and Sailor Mini to skyrocket. Other pen manufacturers recognized this tremendous business opportunity and joined the competition. Taking advantage of favorable timing, conditions, and harmony, pocket pens became highly popular in Japan.


The Peanuts, a Japanese female singing duo, achieved great success with their song "恋のバカンス" (Love on Vacation) released in April 1963, making "バカンス" (vacation) a popular term at that time. Photo from:https://www.tapthepop.net/song/69007


1960s to 1970s was the golden age of pocket pens in Japan. Almost every pen manufacturer capable of producing pens introduced their own models of pocket pens, such as the Pilot Elite, which achieved sales in the millions. Even pen manufacturers from Taiwan, South Korea, and China released their own pocket pen models. Pocket pens emerged as a trend and eventually became part of the fashion.

Unfortunately, in the 1980s, due to changing preferences and the rise of longer pens like the 3776 and Custom, as well as the impact of ballpoint pens, pocket pens gradually faded from the spotlight. However, many treasures from that era still await our exploration.


The three major pen manufacturers in Japan, Pilot, Platinum, and Sailor, each introduced their first short fountain pens: the Pilot Sporty 12, Platinum PK-1000, and Sailor Minii, respectively.




Conclusion: What makes Pocket Pens so special?

Some friends have asked: With so many pocket pen models available throughout history, what makes Japanese pocket pens so special?

Born in the same era, capturing the nation's enthusiasm, with almost every pen manufacturer participating in production and developing unique designs while adhering to the same design philosophy, and enjoying popularity for twenty years... I believe these factors make Japanese pocket pens stand out and form a unique system of their own.

Even to this day, the design of pocket pens continues to be passed down. The image shows the current production of the Pilot Elite 95S, blue shareholder limited edition. To know more:https://pocketpenchronicle.com/2018/10/09/pilot-elite-95s-pocket-pen-blue-corporate-edition/


Personally, I truly appreciate the original design concept of pocket pens: compact, lightweight, excellent for writing, and easy to carry. In an era where handwriting is gradually fading, pocket pens stand in opposition, preserving the last inch of romance.

Though pocket pens may be short in size, they possess great spirit.





Originally, I only intended to briefly share the story of pocket pens, but as I delved deeper into the research, it led me to explore various fields, including Japanese fashion, economy, and popular culture. As a result, I ended up writing a lengthy three-thousand-word piece.

Although it took considerable time and effort, I thoroughly enjoyed the process. Apart from my personal interest in the historical story of pocket pens and my desire to understand why they were born and became popular, it was especially fulfilling to uncover another aspect of pocket pens' value.

While pens, as tools, have their fundamental value in writing, throughout history, countless craftsmen and designers have dedicated their time and effort to pen design. Pens have continuously evolved in response to the demands of society and the market, transforming from a simple writing instrument into a vessel of human aesthetics and history. Thus, in addition to "using pens," we can also "appreciate pens" and savor the design and background stories behind them. Today, I have finally filled in the missing origin story of pocket pens, completing their historical value and allowing these tools used for writing history to become a part of history themselves. If this article can provide you with a deeper understanding of pocket pens and make you appreciate the pocket pen in your own hand a little more, then that would be wonderful.

Once again, I express my gratitude to Mr. Arakura for his selfless guidance. Without his sharing, I would never have discovered such a fascinating story behind pocket pens.

If you'd like to learn more about the reasons and stories behind my collection of pocket pens and the establishment of my website, please visit the "About Me 關於我" page.

2023.12.11 Jerry Yu


A photo of me with Mr. Arakura at the Tainan Pen Show in 2023.




  1. 茂由 ライター,東 雑記帳 - ホンコンシャツは半袖の裾をv字に,retried: https://www.higashi-news.com/東-雑記帳---ホンコンシャツは半袖の裾をv字に/
  2. 懐かしの働く男の必需品「ホンコンシャツ」,retried: https://middle-edge.jp/articles/I0000315
  3. みゆき族と半袖シャツ,retried: https://www.shirt.co.jp/sakasamegane/332-1/
  4. ホンコンシャツ - サラリーマンの夏は暑かった,retried: http://mktrojin.livedoor.blog/archives/8244218.html
  5. 中丸謙一朗,日本人の夢やあこがれを映し出す「外来語」 バカンス(昭和38年),retried: https://www.zakzak.co.jp/article/20200325-7MDEIALHRFIPFBXJPN7ZUJSCTA/
  6. NHKアーカイブス,盛んになるレジャー 流行語はバカンス,retried: https://www2.nhk.or.jp/archives/movies/?id=D0009030480_00000
  7. 年代別『流行ファッション』物語:ザ・ピーナッツの歌った「恋のバカンス」で大ヒット,retried: https://danshi-senka.com/archives/593
  8. セーラー万年筆のあゆみ,retried: https://sailor.co.jp/topics/step/
  9. 佐藤剛,「恋のバカンス」が誕生~ザ・ピーナッツにと っで最初の大ヒットになったオリジナル曲,retried: https://www.tapthepop.net/song/69007


Tefolium 2017 年 12 月 23 日 - pm 7:40


娛生 2018 年 1 月 3 日 - pm 6:37


Chi 2021 年 8 月 20 日 - pm 8:47




娛生 2021 年 8 月 24 日 - pm 1:47




至於另一個方法則是從各種出版物提取線索,例如鋼筆介紹書藉(如”Fountain Pen of Japan”)、不同文具雜誌等,上面有時會有某些章節段落提及短鋼資料。我自己也有從二手市場收集70-80年代日本筆廠推出的產品目錄,補充一些輔助資訊。



PithyProlix 2021 年 11 月 28 日 - pm 5:08

Thank you for this site – I love it! I have 20 vintage Japanese pocket pens now and I appreciate the information you provide.


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A pocket pen lover from Hong Kong!

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