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While not a research-level math question, I'm sure this is a question of interest to many research-level mathematicians, whose expertise I seek.

At RIMS (in Kyoto) in 2005, they had the best white chalk I've seen anywhere. It's slightly larger than standard American chalk, harder, heavier, and most importantly covered with some enamel-like coating that one must rub through (on the end) to be able to write with. One's hands don't rub through the coating, and thus don't get chalky.

Are there any U.S. manufacturers of such?

EDIT: even though someone has given a link whereby to order this stuff from Japan, I would still be delighted to hear about American products that beat Binney & Smith.

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I went to the second annual "Current Developments in Mathematics" conference some years back, at a conference center in Boston. They slid the wall with the projector screen aside, to expose the blackboard. It still had the notes on it from the previous year's conference. –  Allen Knutson May 28 '10 at 14:12
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Community wiki? –  Grétar Amazeen May 28 '10 at 14:37
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I went to a conf center in Boston a few years ago, and the main secretary (who had been there 2 years) was excited/intrigued that I was the first person to ask about using overhead transparencies. I think technology used differs by subject area. I've seen some groups where almost no one used computer slides, and others where almost everyone did. Someone told me there were a couple of slate chalkboards somewhere in Berkeley still (a decade ago) that were really nice. I've also been told that printing (opposed to cursive) slows you down, but only if the chalk is high quality. A strange theory. –  Junkie May 28 '10 at 15:16
    
Now community wiki. –  Allen Knutson May 28 '10 at 17:52
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Another piece of miracle Japanese technology is the eraser cleaners they have now (at least in Tokyo Inst. of Technology). It really helps reduce the chalk dust in the room tremendously. –  Dylan Thurston Apr 4 '12 at 8:10

6 Answers 6

up vote 43 down vote accepted

You can buy it online http://en.item.rakuten.com/bung-man/fc720l/

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I'm actually curious enough that I just bought two boxes of that chalk... I think... the part with the shipping options was in Japanese. –  Gunnar Þór Magnússon May 29 '10 at 17:09
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For those who don't click through, they'll charge $14 + $5/box for shipping. The actual chalk is $6/box. –  Allen Knutson May 29 '10 at 19:37
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...and one box contains 72 sticks of chalk. –  Steve Flammia May 30 '10 at 0:59
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The boxes come with a special spacing grid separating the chalk sticks, so that they don't touch each other in the box. –  Joel David Hamkins May 31 '10 at 18:03

We here in New York have also long sought to secure supplies of this amazingly high quality chalk. It is called Hagoromo "Fulltouch" chalk, and my colleague Jonas Reitz wrote to the company, since the chalk does not seem to be available anywhere in the US, and got a letter in reply directly from the company president (with fairly OK English) concerning prices and rates to the US. It would come to 3 dollars per stick, and we considered that.

Meanwhile, one of our postdocs with connections to Japan was able to arrange a small supply that way, and this is the message our administrative assistant sent out (provided with permission):

To All GC Math Ph.D. Program Faculty,

I am happy to report that we have managed (thorough the good graces of our postdoc Yu Yasufuku) to get a limited supply of Hagoromo "Fulltouch" chalk which is made in Japan and is not available for sale in the United States. We have been trying unsuccessfully to get this “miracle” chalk for years, but finally our prayers have been answered. Users of this chalk report that it is the “Rolls Royce” of chalk; for you oenophiles, it may be thought of as the “Chateau Lafite Rothschild” of chalk, or, for you baseball fans, the “Babe Ruth” of chalk… well, you get the idea.

I have heard it said that it is impossible to make a mathematical mistake when writing with this chalk, but I am somewhat dubious of this claim.

The chalk was “smuggled” in stick by stick carried in the beaks of birds (well, practically), so the supply is very limited. We have, however, worked out a distribution system that seems the fairest and that should allow our stash to last for about 3 semesters. Faculty members teaching at GC will get ten sticks of chalk per semester, and those not teaching but who are coordinating (or co-coordinating) a math seminar at the GC and is a member of the Math Doctoral Faculty will each get 2 sticks per semester. This will repeat each semester until the chalk is gone. Faculty should save this chalk for use only during their most important lectures or when working on their most important theorems.

If you currently fall into one of the two categories listed above, please stop by to see me for your chalk and I will check you off of my list. Hopefully, after spring 2011, another supply of these magical white sticks can be procured on the black or gray market, or perhaps Hagoromo will begin distribution in the U.S.

At any rate, enjoy your chalk! Use it wisely.

Best,

Rob

Robert S. Landsman, Assistant Program Officer, CUNY Ph.D. Program in Mathematics

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I'm so glad to know the name of the manufacturer, thanks! I am loath to mark the question "answered", though, insofar as I still hope someone will suggest a no doubt inferior alternative that's still better than Binney & Smith. –  Allen Knutson May 28 '10 at 17:56

My company started selling Hagoromo Fulltouch Chalk through Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007R76ND2

If you have any question, please contact me at kyung@tenbyteninc.com 510-652-1492

Thank you. Kyung

Edit: Now you can buy Hagoromo Fulltouch Chalk in color. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=bl_sr_office-products/189-2317706-1220456?_encoding=UTF8&field-brandtextbin=Hagoromo%20Bungu&node=1064954

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And I've already received my first box as a present! Thank you! –  Todd Eisworth Apr 9 '12 at 18:57
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Is it also possible to get colored chalk via Amazon? –  Sam Nead May 11 '12 at 21:56
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This answer amazingly manages not to be spam despite being an advertisement. –  Ryan Reich Apr 3 '13 at 4:24

If you are looking for something better than Binney and Smith, and don't want to pay shipping from Japan, I really like Quartet chalk. They sell it in white:

http://www.amazon.com/Quartet-Alpha-Nontoxic-Chalk-Sticks/dp/B002ZZ9FMC

I have never bought the white, though, so I can't swear by it.

I do use their triple size ivory chalk. I like it because it is thicker than regular chalk (so easier on the wrists and arms), and also because it is much denser than Binney and Smith. You can find it at Office Depot:

http://www.officedepot.com/a/products/342246/Quartet-Alphasite-Triple-Size-Chalk-3/

I also swear by their colored chalk:

http://www.amazon.com/Nontoxic-Colored-Assorted-Colors-QRT305003/dp/B0013CQ38W/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=office-products&qid=1281560371&sr=8-1-catcorr

They do have a stick of white in each packet of colored, and if that is the same as what they sell in what I listed first, then I can vouch for its quality.

One final note: this chalk claims to be low dust. I disagree. If you're looking for good dense chalk that shows up really well on the board, this is it. But if you want to be clean at the end of the lecture, this is not for you.

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Ah, I was wondering what the name of this chalk manufacturer was. I used it once before and really liked it. The coloured chalk is excellent. The main problem I have with it is it breaks a little too easily. The Hagoromo chalk above does not have that problem. But the Quartet chalk is in effect much cheaper. –  Ryan Budney Aug 11 '10 at 21:16
    
Paul Sally at UChicago exclusively used the triple-thickness Quarter chalk, and, as his TA, I became addicted to it. Unfortunately, my university rolled the entire faculty over to whiteboards a few years before I came …. (I know that UBC has done this, too, and assume that others will soon follow, bad trends being the ones that see the quickest adoption.) –  L Spice May 24 '11 at 0:24

Following on S. Okada's post, I recently ordered 12 boxes (864 pieces) for just under $25 per box, or 3 sticks/dollar. Rakuten only ships within Japan, but Tenso will forward the package abroad for roughly twice the cost of the package itself. However, Tenso is having a promotion till 28 Feb 2012, first 5000 yen discounted to 1000 yen. For a few boxes, jump on this, this is your chance. I went way over so it didn't save me much.

Even though Rakuten won't ship the chalk abroad, their English web form requires a complete US address before a person gets to look at the order. This is easy: Give your US address, but in the comments field, give your Tenso address. This worked just fine for me.

My credit card company put a fraud alert on Rakuten's charge, which canceled the order. Somewhat reasonable if Rakuten doesn't ship to the US, where I am. I had to place the order again, after clearing the fraud alert. Better to warn your credit card company in advance.

My breakdown, 12 boxes was 7092 yen plus 300 yen shipping to Tenso, or 92.62 USD. It arrived within a day. Tenso to NY was 17300 yen shipping plus 2980 yen handling, minus my 4000 yen coupon, or 204.41 USD. If anyone can parse a "slow boat" shipping option that costs less, that would help. Otherwise, I have word of a new importer to the US that should have stock in May, also $25 per box but less adventure to order. I'll post again when that's official.

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I was recently pointed to this site for buying Japanese chalk (white and color, Rikagaku brand), as well as other Japanese pens and office supplies. In particular, they sell the Japanese erasers that I believe Dylan referred to in his comment on the original question.

http://www.jetpens.com/

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Actually, @Dylan was referring to the eraser cleaners, which are basically small specialized vacuum cleaners. I've never seen those sold outside Asia (jetpens included) -- if anybody has, I'd be interested to hear about it. –  Christian Clason Dec 5 '13 at 7:35
    
By the way, these are also used in South Korea -- this might be relevant for people in continental Europe, since South Korea has switched to 220V and type C/F plugs some time ago, so you could run a cleaner without an adapter. –  Christian Clason Dec 5 '13 at 7:43
    
Oh sorry, I read too quickly! The Berkeley Math Dept has an eraser cleaner which presumably was bought outside Asia, but it looks like it is 50 years old, and I've never seen another. –  Tara Holm Dec 6 '13 at 14:31

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