Kenji Ekuan, the Japanese industrial designer whose work included the unmistakable Kikkoman soy sauce dispenser, has died. He was 85.
Ekuan believed in making design accessible to everyone. Inspired in part by the tragedy of Hiroshima, which killed his father, Ekuan devoted his life to crafting objects that would be lovingly used, not just coveted or gawked at. “The existence of tangible things is important. It’s evidence that we’re here as human beings,” he once said on Japanese TV channel NHK. His life’s work is proof positive: great design leaves a mark on humanity that can’t be erased. Here are his most iconic designs:
Kikkoman soy sauce dispenser
These bottles are so ubiquitous that it seems like they’ve always been around. Ekuan said that his most famous design was inspired by a childhood memory of his mother pouring soy sauce from a large container into a smaller one for use at meals. Many years later, the dispenser’s red tops and flask-like shapes have come to define the experience of eating Asian food the world over.
Improving on the groundbreaking Yamaha V-Max, Ekuan’s 2009 VMAX was a muscular, high-powered update to the classic motorcycle. The website Total Motorcycle called it “the ultimate marriage of brawn and brains” with “forward thinking style for a machine with massive performance and equally colossal great looks.”
Komachi Bullet Train
Ekuan’s design firm GK Design, which he founded in 1957, was responsible for some of the fastest bullet trains in Japan. His innovations included a narrower, more aerodynamic train to fit on the scaled-down bullet train tracks. He also added special extended doors that reached the station from the train’s narrower body.
This popular train was built by GK Design to transport passengers between Tokyo and the Narita International Airport. It won the Laurel Prize, an award for railway vehicles, in 1992 for its outstanding design.
Shell Flat Seat for Japan Airlines
With its creative shell shape, Ekuan’s airline seats allowed more privacy and a flatter sleeping position than most business class seats. He won the Japanese Good Design Award for the seats in 2003.