Kenji Ekuan dies at 85; designer’s works included Kikkoman sauce dispenser

Japanese industrial designer Kenji Ekuan in Tokyo in 2003. The former monk's designs ranged from a bullet train to the red-capped Kikkoman soy sauce dispenser as familiar as the classic Coca-Cola bottle.
(Associated Press)

Japanese industrial designer Kenji Ekuan, whose works included such diverse products as a bullet train and the red-capped Kikkoman soy sauce dispenser, has died. He was 85.

Ekuan died of a heart problem at a Tokyo hospital early Saturday, according to his company, GK Industrial Design Group.

A former monk, Ekuan crafted a tabletop bottle for Kikkoman Corp. in 1961, winning international popularity for the handy, flask-shaped dispenser of the salty brown condiment flavoring many Asian cuisines.

He had said he wanted to design a small bottle because of his childhood memory of his mother pouring soy sauce from a half-gallon bottle to a tabletop dispenser.


His other designs included the Yamaha VMAS motorcycle, the Komachi bullet train connecting Tokyo and northern Japan, the Narita Express airport liner, audio equipment and company logos.

His work originated in the sights of Hiroshima’s devastation after the U.S. atomic bombing 70 years ago. He heard the voices of streetcars, bicycles and other objects mangled and abandoned, saying they had wished to have been utilized more, he is quoted as saying in a company pamphlet for his Hiroshima exhibit last year.

His design principle was a “democratization” of goods and beauty, to make them accessible for everyone.

Ekuan was born Sept. 11, 1929, in Tokyo. He became a monk at a Hiroshima temple to succeed his father, who died of the effects of radiation from the atomic bombing. But he eventually pursued his career in design. He graduated from the prestigious Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in 1955 and two years later from the Art Center College of Design, now in Pasadena. He founded his design studio in Tokyo in 1957.

Last year, Ekuan received a prestigious Italian industrial design prize, the Golden Compass Award, after winning several other international awards.

Yamaguchi writes for the Associated Press.