Hiroki Terai, 34, has collected more than 20,000 pieces of "tameshigaki" art from 106 countries around the world.
Tameshigaki is paper provided by stationery shops for customers to test out pens. Terai has amassed this amazing collection by asking stores directly or having acquaintances send them from overseas.
He first began collecting tameshigaki seven years ago, after becoming enchanted by a piece of the paper at a stationery store in Belgium. He was wandering around Europe at the time, shortly after quitting his job as a sales representative for a large temp agency, which had made him work until the last train every night.
The users of the paper wrote freely and unconsciously with a variety of pens, and drew characters and patterns such as colorful flowers and heart shapes. For Terai, the scribble-filled pages were a sort of randomly created art. He found in them a natural expression of humanity that would normally just be thrown away, once the paper was no longer useful. He became obsessed with this new kind of "art."
Back to Tokyo, he began running an event planning business, and continued collecting such pieces of paper. He was surprised to learn that each piece expressed a different national character.
"In Africa, there were only lines, written with strong pressure. Pens there are probably often defective and people just want to be sure they worked," Terai said. "In France and Italy, pictures are drawn stylishly. Arithmetic formulas stand out in India."
Japanese pen-testers frequently write buzz phrases such as "Imadesho!" (Now or never), a phrase spread by a famous cram school teacher and "Bai-gaeshi" (Payback twice as hard), a phrase used in a TV drama.
As a collector, Terai aspires to establish a cultural anthropology of tameshigaki and hold an exhibition at the Louvre Museum.
Fifteen pieces from his collections are currently displayed at the Tokyu Hands store in Kyoto through July 21. He plans to publish a book this autumn.