Kenji Ekuan: Designer whose work took in motorcycles and the bullet train as well as his familiar tabletop soya bottle

His designs originated from the sights of Hiroshima's devastation after dropping of the atomic bomb in 1945.

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The Independent Online

Kenji Ekuan was a designer whose works ranged from a bullet train to the red-capped Kikkoman soy sauce dispenser which has become almost as familiar as the classic Coca-Cola bottle.

A former monk, Ekuan crafted a tabletop bottle for Kikkoman in 1961, winning international popularity both for the handy, flask-shaped dispenser he had dreamed up. He said he wanted to design a small bottle because of his childhood memory of his mother pouring soy sauce from a half-gallon bottle into a tabletop dispenser.

Other examples of his renowned works include the Yamaha VMAS motorcycle, the Komachi bullet train connecting Tokyo and northern Japan, the Narita Express airport liner, as well as audio equipment and company logos. His designs, he said, originated from the sights of Hiroshima's devastation after dropping of the atomic bomb in 1945. In a company pamphlet for an Hiroshima exhibition last year he wrote that he had heard the voices of street cars, bicycles and other objects mangled and abandoned in the city, telling him that they had wished to have been utilised more. His design principle was a "democratisation" of goods and beauty, to make them accessible for everyone.

Ekuan became a monk in a Hiroshima temple to succeed his father, who died from radiation following the atomic bombing. But he eventually pursued a career in design, graduating from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in 1955 and founding his design studio two years later.

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

Kenji Ekuan, designer: born 11 September 1929; died Tokyo 8 February 2015.

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