How to Use the Japanese Notebook Organization System

Japanese Notebook Organization System | Productive Notes
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I am a big fan of paper notebooks and analog note-taking. Analog note-taking presents some challenges, such as finding specific notes or categories of notes in a notebook. If this is a problem you have faced before, this Japanese notebook organization system is an effective and easy solution to solve this problem.

The Japanese notebook organization system is also called the Highfive system. It is a simple system of pen-based tagging of a notebook’s pages based on the different categories listed in the notebook’s index. All you need to try this system is an empty notebook and a pen.

How to choose a notebook for the Japanese organization system

You need an empty notebook to test the Japanese notebook organization system. After implementing the tagging system, you need to flick the pages of your notebook to find your category tags easily. A notebook that meet the following requirements is the best for this system:

  • has been bound with either glued, string or staples (not a spiral bound notebook)
  • is a grid, dot or lined notebook to line up your tags easily
  • has over 50 pages and
  • has good quality pages that do not bleed through

If you don’t know what type of notebook to use, I provide suggestions for the best notebooks for this system at the bottom of this post.

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Decide what you want to use your notebook for

After deciding on a notebook, consider what you want to use the notebook for. The best type of activities to use the Japanese notebook organization system are activities that involve different categories of notes. Examples include:

  • recipes book
  • mood monitoring diary
  • meeting notes
  • monthly notes
  • exercise diary or
  • reading diary

Draft your table of contents with your chosen categories

Once you have decided what you want to use your notebook for, open it to the first page to do the index page. According to the author of the original post, the table of contents should be on the last page of your notebook. This is most likely the Japanese way of doing it, but you can also use the first page of your notebook for your table of contents. The choice of first or last page will influence the direction you will later flip through the notebook to find pages per category.

Now add your table of contents to either the first or last page of your notebook. Your table of contents will be a list of the different categories you want to tag in the notebook. If we look at the previous examples, the table of contents will include the following categories:

  • recipes by type of meal (e.g. breakfast, lunch or supper) or by ingredient (e.g. meat, vegetable, starch)
  • diary based on different moods, such as happy, sad, content, depressed or tired
  • meeting notes featuring categories such as project-meetings, team meetings, committee meetings
  • notebook featuring monthly categories
  • exercise diary by type of workout, such as cardio, strength and yoga or
  • reading diary featuring categories by type of book (such as fiction, biography, travel, history).

It is important for you to list each category on a separate line in your index.

Add your tags as you fill your notebook pages

As you fill your notebook’s pages, mark the page with a tag by coloring a square in line with the category’s placement in your table of contents.

Easily find the notes relating to the different categories

After adding a few pages of content, you should be able to find the notes relating to the different categories in your table of contents. Just flip through your notebook, and look for tags for the different categories listed in your table of contents.

Alternative uses of the Japanese notebook organization system

Another effective use of this system is to color-code the different categories you have listed in your table of contents. As you fill the pages of your notebook, remember to mark the pages with the relevant color for the category the page relates to.

How have I used the Japanese notebook organization system?

I was excited when I discovered this method and wanted to try it myself. After finding an empty notebook, I decided to use it for recipes as I have been meaning to write the recipes I have recently tried in a notebook for easier access.

First I made my index on the first page of the notebook and used the different categories of recipes I have tried recently. I used colors to differentiate between the categories of recipes in addition to aligning the tag to the index page.

Japanese Notebook Organization System Index

Then I wrote the first recipe and added the tag for the recipe in color and in alignment with its category on the index page.

Japanese Notebook Organization System Tagging

I added more recipes, each time using a different colour to tag the recipe and aligning it to the relevant category according to the table of contents page. After I had written three recipes in my notebook, one for each category, this is what it looked like.

Japanese Notebook Organization System Tagging by Index

This system is easy and it works – I like it! I prefer using colors, but it can work with one color.

Some points to take note when using the Japanese notebook organization system

When I tried the Japanese notebook organization method, I noticed the following:

  • If you use the first page of your notebook as your index, you can only tag the pages on the right. Likewise, if you used the last page of your notebook as your index, you can only tag the pages on the left. The method only works in one direction if you want to flip through the notebook from one side only. Alternatively, you can tag both pages, but then you must flip your notebook from both sides to see the different tags for each category of your index. For me, I will just write recipes from the same categories on both sides of a page to avoid having to flip through forwards and backwards.
  • Make sure your pages do not bleed through otherwise you may tag the page under the one you are busy with by accident. Either use a notebook with higher quality pages or change the pens you use if there is bleed-through.

Best notebooks for the Japanese notebook organization system

Here are some suggestions for notebooks that meet the criteria mentioned before:

Notebook name

Cover

Number of Pages

Type of Pages

Colors/
Designs

Click To Buy

Eccolo Dayna Lee Collection

Flexi

256

Lined

Various

Thimblepress Journal

Flexi

256

Lined

Various

Minimalism Art

Soft

176

Dotted grid

Various

Moleskine Classic

Soft

240

Ruled, Dotted, Squared, Plain

Various

Leuchtturm1917

Soft

121

Ruled, Dotted, Squared, Plain

Various

Best pens for the Japanese notebook organization system

The best pens for this system are those that are easy to mark pages by coloring a small square on each page. I tried the Lyra dual tip markers, but they caused bleed-through in my notebook. I then tried the Staedtler Fineliners, and they worked perfectly! Again, it depends on the paper your notebook has.

Will I use the Japanese notebook organization system again? Definitely! It is cost-effective and easy to start using.

Japanese Notebook Organization System | Productive Notes