What's So Special About This Japanese Chalk?

The company has folded, but the chalk is still available online
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 17, 2015 10:23 AM CDT
What's So Special About This Japanese Chalk?
Prime Minister Stephen Harper looks at a chalk board filled with well wishes at the Yuriage Junior High School as he visits the coastal region of Japan, near Sendai, on Monday, March 26, 2012.   (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)

When the 80-year-old Japanese company that produces Hagoromo Fulltouch chalk went out of business this past spring, mathematicians took to social media to pay their respects and their wallets to buy as much of the chalk as they could—15 years' worth in the case of one professor. Sarah Zhang set out to learn why, and writes in Gizmodo that the tongue-in-cheek "tragedy of mathematics" that is the demise of Hagoromo is such a big deal to mathematicians because whiteboards and tablets simply don't offer the same appeal to "crotchety" academics, as one put it. "Plus, technology has that annoying tendency of becoming glitchy at the most inconvenient times," Zhang writes.

Chalkboards, apparently, tend to be easier to clean and maintain than whiteboards, which involve cleaning fluids, chemicals, and the tendency of markers to run out in the middle of something. And the Japanese chalk has a shiny, clear coating that doesn't get too dusty, and appears "thicker and sturdier" than its American-made cousins, writes Zhang. "It’s hard to articulate but when I’m using it, I can feel it’s nicer—it both flows nicely and it lasts much longer, too," one mathematician says. But it's not just the end of a company's era, Zhang notes; it's the end of a medium, the chalkboard. In fact, the technology for making Hagoromo chalk lives on, transferred to a big office supply corporation in Japan that now makes something called DC Chalk Deluxe. (Check out how old this recently-found chalkboard, with writing still on it, is.)

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