Updated December 2019: I am so excited to update this post with the news that the Hightide Downtown LA Store now has an online shop! If you’re looking for an amazing Japanese minimal planner, including the exact one in this post for 2020, click over for sure (and ignore info below about how difficult it is to find these.) Enjoy!
I am SO excited to sit down and share this detailed overview and review of a Hightide Diary planner! It is very difficult to find these planners in the US, let alone find anything written on them in detail in English, so I am both very happy to have my hands on one of these as well as to share lots of images and thoughts with you. This is long overdue since I got this in December (!) – but I tested this planner from January through March and really got to know it, so this will be an in-depth review rather than a “look at this layout!” kind of post.
In this post, you’ll find an introduction to Hightide, an overview of each part of the planner, an explanation of how I use it, a review, and finally where you can buy it if you’re interested (I know these are hard to find!). So grab some coffee, settle in, and let’s get going!
Hightide is a Japanese company that makes lifestyle products, with a number of different brands under its umbrella. You might be familiar with their more popular brands like Nahe (known for pouches and cubes, some of which are occasionally sold in places like Madewell in the States) or Penco (which makes retro cube storage, massive binder clips, and other plastic-forward office supplies).
The Hightide Diary brand is their planner arm. Like many Japanese stationery companies, Hightide Diary creates planners in several different layout types, and then sells the same book with different covers (you can then also get refills). Since they come in standard European sizes like A5, you can also insert them into any cover of that size by any company.
This specific diary/planner is the NZ Type, A5 size, with a PVC cover that from afar looks a little like leatherette. You can find this specific planner on their Japanese website here.
They make tons of different cover styles and colors, from classy/business-friendly like the one I got, to cute floral pattern designs. Since I’m a planner junkie, I already have a few A5 covers and didn’t particularly want one like this, but they didn’t have the one I liked the most (if you’re curious, that’d be a branded Nahe style with a clear cover over a kind of felty soft paper cover). So I just got this one and later “reskinned” it myself using old covers I had.
This planner has a lot of bells and whistles that I love. Let’s take a look at an overview of this planner, before use.
↑ 2019/20 Overview
A standard spread in most planners, but one laid out in a pleasing, squished minimal format. (Look at that font! Condensed gothics are my jam.)
↑ Habit or Project Tracker
Definitely unique to Japanese planners, these project (or habit) trackers are such a smart way to lay out your progress. Going horizontally, you can track specific projects (or pieces of projects), habits, or use the relatively generous-sized boxes to make notes on your progress (such as miles ran, hours slept, etc.). You could even use this to track weather! Be still my heart.
Again, standard in many Japanese planners and not so much in America, this year-at-a-glance vertical allows you to make notes of holidays, birthdays, and other important dates.
↑ Monthly Spreads
The monthly spreads carry the same beautiful minimal design, and they’re the first in the tabbed sections of the planner. The holidays are, of course, only in Japanese and such days are in a deep red color, just visible in these photos. I just noticed the moon phases are also indicated here – a nice touch.
↑ Weekly Spreads
The weekly spreads are always what sell me on planners, and Hightide’s are some of the best. Because of the slim font, they’ve fitted a ton onto these spreads (which I now want on all of my bullet journal spreads, but gosh darnit if even my tiny handwriting can’t totally fit all these neat additions…). These details include: three daily checkboxes, calendars for the current and following months, a full 24-hour time schedule, and gridded notes area below.
Also, note that everything is printed in GREY – not dark black. Does it bother anyone else when planners print guidelines, text, etc. in clunky black? Drives me crazy – I want my handwriting, appointments, and tasks to stand out, not the design of the planner!
The other thing I love about this planner that you can see in this shot are the tabs for each of the months. They even came with clear stickers to reinforce the first tab in each page block, so it stays in good shape throughout the year.
PLANNER IN ACTION
I used this planner from January through March. It took me a minute to figure out how best to use this planner, so I’ll show you an overview as well as some detail shots of how I made this work for me.
In the space below each day, I included the weather and any special holidays, birthdays, or notes. The top checkboxes were for any personal to-do’s. The scheduling area was, of course, taken up by schedule, and the bottom area for daily work-related to-do’s. A teeny habit tracker using stencils from Ink by Jeng rounds out the left side of the spread.
Since I don’t work on weekends, that task area became a gratitude log for the week instead. A gold open binder clip was needed to hold the pages open – this planner isn’t really a lay-flat type.
I spent a few practice weeks in the month of December (the start month of this planner) and struggled enormously to figure out how to use this planner. Although I use a weekly view in my bullet journal, the task layout that works for me is a running list for the whole week rather than a daily to-do list – and before you say it, yes, I know I can barely call myself a bullet journaller at this point!
In any case, what did it for me was an impulse buy from JetPens of the Hi-Tec-C multi-pens. My hope was that a semi-chic looking multi-pen would allow me some color coding which would help me click into using this planner more. It TOTALLY changed the game and made this planner a joy to use. I think I missed my color accents in my bullet journal more than I realized, so using this was such a great way to add that in.
Here’s the key I made and taped to the inside of my planner.
Now for detail shots! I used a grey gel pen to note the weather and any holidays or special notes for the day. The checklists at the top were personal items. Since the week was on one spread, I didn’t “migrate” to the next day. (Again, am I even a bullet journaller? Oof. Existential planning crisis ahoy.)
One thing that was tough to fit in was my tracker. I had to vertically align it, heavily shorthand what I was tracking, and squish it in there! It works visually, though, I think, and if I didn’t have it on a weekly spread I know I’d never be motivated to keep up with my habits and fill it out.
Here’s a closeup of the task section. I usually use circles to check off (and cross out – does anyone else do both, or just me?), but there was no space here, so I went with bullets and crossed off. Again, like the above, I didn’t migrate but instead (since they were all in the same view), just added new tasks to each day. It was kind of cool to see which tasks were added which day, which isn’t a way I’d ever have thought of tracking to-do’s.
Also, you’ll see I actually drew in ruled lines each week with a pale grey Tombow Dual Brush Pen. The grid is just SO SMALL – perfect for kanji, but I needed a bit more guidance to write on a straight line, so I added one in!
Here’s the monthly view filled in too. I used washi tape to note days off (hey rollover vacation days! miss you), and color coded various work commitments or personal/fun things.
Closeup of the monthly spread. Alas, I never use these spreads, even in my bullet journal, and this was the only spread I really filled out when I was in this planner.
There are things I LOVE about this planner, and they almost outweigh the cons. Its design is top-notch, for me at least – minimal, professional, every detail beautifully thought out. The tabs are gorgeous, the font size is small and compact, and the ink color is visible but fade into the background so your tasks stand out. Plus, the spreads are super unique, especially the tracker one. Those are the kinds of spreads that it’s hard to re-create in a bullet journal (believe me, I’ve tried!) so having it here and ready to go is amazing.
Onto the cons. As beautiful as this planner is, like all dated planners, it’s somewhat restricting, especially if you’ve been used to a bullet journal (like I have!). First, it’s got dates, so of course, you’re pinned to those times as far as using it. (And I’ve yet to find a way to reuse past-date dated planners that I like…anyone out there have ideas?)
Also, because there’s an existing layout, you may find it hard to personalize like I did. I’m much more on the minimal/functional side of the planner community, so if your aesthetic is beautifully building up a Hobonichi with doodles and washi and journaling (I’m super jealous if that’s you!), you may find planners like these totally unintimidating to decorate and personalize. For me, somehow I need the blank sheets of a bullet journal to even feel comfortable dipping my toes in a decorating pool, so I definitely remained very minimal here and mainly used simple color coding as my decorating comfort zone.
In addition, the beautiful design also makes it so that you do need to do things in a certain way in this planner. For example, you’ll need to use relatively small handwriting to fit it all in. Since Japanese as a written language has a smaller “footprint” and can also be written vertically, most Japanese planners (obviously, and of course!) are made in a format that works well for that. That didn’t bother me much since my handwriting is pretty small, but if you have large writing, this would not be a great planner for you. The thing I found trickiest for me was the thin columns for each day, which necessitated me trying daily-ish tasks – I ended up liking using daily tasks in the end, but still found I needed a bit more room. So it was fun to try something new but be aware that if you’re trying a Japanese planner and writing in English, there are a few things you’ll need to test and try out to make the layouts work for you.
And of course the big con is that this planner is hard to find in outside of Japan. For me that made this planner feel really special, but I think when I was posting it on my Instagram, that was understandably frustrating to a lot of you who wanted to get it for yourself. I have a section below on where you can buy this planner, if you’re interested.
So, to review: If you like minimal, gorgeously designed, high-quality, thoughtful planners, try to get your hands on this thing, and you will not be disappointed. It is super professional, incredibly efficient, and just an all-around lovely thing to hold in your hands. That said, if you’re more on the creative journaling side, you may want to stick with a bullet journal – unless you know you feel cool with personalizing the heck out of dated/printed planners. If so, you could have a field day with this one!
WHERE TO BUY
I just went to Japan, and I expected these planners to be everywhere. In fact, I actually found Hightide planners a little difficult to find (and I went to a LOT of stationery stores!). Places like Itoya and LOFT, both in Tokyo, did have a selection of some of their products but it was far from the full range, and I didn’t see this specific planner at all. I suspect they might have had a dedicated store elsewhere I didn’t realize existed (like the Stalogy store I didn’t know about until after I got back home…sigh).
Anyway, if you’re from the States like me, it is very tough to find these planners. BUT! I’m here to help! Here are the locations I’ve seen them:
- Last year, Hightide opened an American outpost in Downtown LA’s The Row. I got this planner there on a holiday trip to Los Angeles. For a lot more detail about Hightide’s LA store and what I got there, go here! You could try calling them to see if they could ship you a planner. Calling them is what I’d suggest as your best bet to get one of these planners!
- I have found Hightide planners at Kinokuniya’s Main Store in Bryant Park in New York City, but only in the new year when they stock planners (of many different Japanese brands!). It’s not the whole catalogue, but this is where I fell in love with this planner in the first place.
- They have really old dated versions on English Amazon, so avoid that. But Japanese Amazon or Rakuten is probably your best bet if you can’t swing the above, however, note that you’ll need to find a shipper who will ship to the US or use a third party shipping site.
Ultimately, I stopped using this planner for two reasons – one of which I’m kind of ashamed of, to be honest! First, it was restrictive. I missed the creativity I used when working on my bullet journal, and I actually found when I went back to it after using this planner, I was being more creative than usual. Heck, I started doing calligraphy and drawing on my spreads sometimes, even! I was also inspired to think about how I could translate some of the things I loved about this planner, especially its unique spreads, to my bullet journal. So even though I found it wasn’t ultimately the right fit I’m glad I used it.
The other reason I stopped using this planner: I did not get a huge amount of engagement on Instagram when I was posting photos of it. I know – I know – that is NOT the point of the planner community, I should not care about numbers – believe me, I know! That’s actually why I stuck with it for months, anyway. But in the end, it was disheartening to see such huge dropoff, not only in numbers but in comments and conversations. Since no one could find/buy this planner, I think it was hard to feel like what I was creating and sharing were things we could all try and mess around with and learn from, and therefore just wasn’t as interesting. In addition to missing my main creative outlet, I missed the folks I’d gotten so used to sharing with and talking to. There’s something to trying something new and being creative within spreads that invites more conversation and connection.
I know I tend to make small incremental changes from week-to-week in my spreads and focus on little accents that can be adjusted, which isn’t the norm for a lot of bullet journal accounts, but even in my own minimal way, in my bullet journal I know there’s room for me to experiment and play and be more free in a way that I really missed being in a traditional planner. Even though I use only a little bit of the original bullet journal system now, I’m really grateful for the ethos of the system in teaching me be looser and more forgiving to myself – not just when planning, but in general. And I love that if I wanted to give it a shot, I COULD post a themed or watercolored spread, and we could talk about it!
So overall, I do still truly love this planner. I think if I hadn’t found the bullet journal community through my Instagram account, I actually might not have switched out of it. But I’m grateful for the inspiration this planner gave me to try new spreads, and how its restrictions made me realize I really do love the creativity of a bullet journal.
Hope you enjoyed this super-in-depth review! What do you think of this planner? Have you ever gone back to planning after bullet journaling for a long time, and what did you think? I’d love to hear your experiences!