A Fox in the Hand

Shibui North Kitsune Review

The Shibui North Kitsune pen is a new model from Ruth Bolton. This cylindrical aluminium rod featuring a geometric pattern pays homage to Japanese design. The Kitsune is named after the mythical Japanese nine-tailed fox, for reasons that are not immediately clear. There does not appear to be anything vulpine, mythical or nine-tailed about the pen itself. However, the Shibui North logo does feature a fox, so the name is not totally off the wall. 

First impressions

The Shibui North Kitsune is a pleasingly lightweight, metal pen with a reassuring sturdiness. This particular model is a polished aluminium cylinder, with a geometric design stamped on the barrel.  There are identical short caps at either ends giving it a pleasing symmetry. One cap houses the business end, which has a no. 6 steel nib. The nib screws directly into the patterned barrel and there is no separate section. The other cap covers the turning mechanism for the converter.  It is fractionally shorter than average, though not pocket sized, unless you have large pockets.


There is an ink window on the barrel. This is slightly off centre, so you know which cap to unscrew for what. Since I received the pen already inked from the previous reviewer, I did not want to start dismantling it to see how it is put together. I do understand that the nib unit and converter can be removed for cleaning.

The cap requires several turns, which whilst secure, is likely to get rather tiresome if you are using the pen intermittently for notes. One could have fun in meetings, re-enacting the passage in War of the Worlds, where the top of the Martian cylinder on Horsell Common is very slowly unscrewing, watched by fascinated onlookers. I’m exaggerating, of course, but you get my drift.

Writing Experience

Unfortunately, the ink that arrived in the pen was so pale as to make it difficult to see how the pen writes. Unwilling to try cleaning it, I dipped it into some darker ink (Robert Oster Bishop to King) in order to test it out. The nib writes smoothly enough, though since it is just dipped, I cannot comment on the ink flow. The No.6 nib is imprinted with what I assume is a custom design, but unfortunately no indication of size. I’m guessing it’s a Western Fine, but could be a Medium.


The Kitsune itself is a little shorter than average and the balance in my hand felt slightly off. Although I generally hold my pens further back than most people, with this model, I found myself holding it right at the end of the barrel where the screw threads for the cap lie. It was not comfortable. I tried holding it further back along the barrel but it just didn’t feel correctly balanced. This really disappointed me, as the width was pretty much perfect – not too slim or too fat, but just right.


The ink window is a great idea, and its placement towards the back of the barrel ensures that it will not interfere with your grip. The single window makes it difficult to gauge the volume of ink unless you have good lighting, but the aluminium surface inside is reflective enough that you can do so easily.

Due to the patterning on the barrel, the edges of the ink window do feel a little rough to the touch. The ink window is well out of the way of one’s grip so this is not a problem at all. In general, the machining is good, with none of the roughness and inconsistency found in early offerings from this brand, one of which I reviewed here.

In Summary

I really like the Shibui North Kitsune pen in principle. Its functional, understated elegance and geometric pattern, pays homage to the Japanese design ethic. The pen is light, well-made, portable and a comfortable width. However, for me, the balance is just not right. This is obviously very much a personal thing and someone else may find it perfectly fine.

You know how sometimes you can pick up a pen and it feels comfortable in your hand and your writing is just so much better? Well, this is definitely is not one of those pens for me.

Here is a comparison of the length with some other pens:

L-R: Onoto Pi, Sheaffer Targa, Kitsune, FPUK22

As you can see, the Kitsune is not substantially shorter than other pens I use quite comfortably. I think the issue, therefore, is related to weight distribution. Perhaps if it were fractionally longer, or had a little more weight at the back, it would feel better in my hand. I would recommend trying it out for yourself, as this is obviously a very subjective observation.

  • Pleasing aesthetics and functional style
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Decent no. 6 nib
  • Cap needs several turns
  • Doesn’t post so the cap could roll away
  • A little unbalanced for (my) comfort
Who is it for
  • Collectors of unique hand-made pens
  • Lovers of simple Japanese-inspired style
  • People with small hands
  • Fans of H.G. Wells
The lowdown

Ruth Bolton’s website, Shibui North, only shows the Kitsune Pocket pen at time of writing. However, she can be found at pens shows and usually has a selection of models with her for sale.


This pen was kindly lent to the United Inkdom group for independent review purposes. 


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