Kenji Ekuan, Designer Behind Iconic Kikkoman Soy Sauce Dispenser and Bullet Train, Has Died

The simple soy sauce dispenser was one of the most important designs of Ekuan’s career

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

The bottle has remained in continuous production since 1961.

Kenji Ekuan, the industrial designer whose portfolio includes Yamaha motorcycles, bullet trains, and the Kikkoman soy sauce dispenser, has died at the age of 85, Ekuan’s office has confirmed to Mainichi Weekly, a Japanese newspaper.

Introduced in 1961, the soy sauce dispenser designed for the Kikkoman corporation would become one of Ekuan’s most enduring creations, a project which drew from his experiences of World War II.

According to a 2012 profile in The New York Times Magazine:

“Traditional in its grace yet modern in its materials, the bottle’s design drew on Ekuan’s experiences at war’s end. The atomic blast killed his younger sister, and his father, a Buddhist priest, died of radiation-related illness a year later, prompting Ekuan to train briefly as a Buddhist monk in Kyoto.

“But he quickly left that training behind, fascinated by the G.I.’s he saw roaming Japan’s ruins. In their jeeps and immaculately pressed gabardine trousers, they were like a ‘moving exhibition,’ extolling the virtues of American invention... He enrolled at the National University of Fine Arts and Music in Tokyo, urging fellow students to give shape to a contemporary ‘Japanese lifestyle.’”

The final shape of the soy sauce dispenser took three years to complete, including the testing of more than 100 prototypes, before the team settled on the transparent teardrop, based on an inverted teapot.

Since its debut in 1961, Ekuan’s design has been in continuous production, and has reached more than 70 countries around the world. 

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