Ekuan, a pillar in the history of modern Japanese design, passed away in February 2015. To celebrate his legacy, no object is more appropriate—and more attuned to the theme of this exhibition—than the ubiquitous soy sauce bottle he designed for Kikkoman. Post-World War II Japan found itself in an identity crisis; its citizens had to hold on tight to their history, culture, and cuisine despite the desolate feelings and the practical effects brought by a devastating and momentous defeat. Soy sauce, a staple of the Japanese diet for hundreds of years, found itself at the forefront of this historical challenge, but the brand needed a boost of modernity. Soy sauce was originally sold in 1.8 liter bottles, both unwieldy and unsightly, and the design of a new bottle rested on fixing those two problems. Ekuan, a former Buddhist monk working at GK Design Group in Japan, set out to redesign the soy sauce dispenser for the company Kikkoman. The bottle had to fit in with the minimalist
Japanese aesthetic and be comfortable to hold— goals he achieved by designing a wide-bottomed bottle that tapers at the neck and ever so slightly funnels out at the very top. The see-through glass, functional in that it allows the consumer to see how much soy sauce is left and beautiful in its simplicity, contrasts with a bright red cap that adds visual depth to the dark sauce. The spout posed the greatest dilemma, as soy sauce has about as much viscosity as wine: none at all. Ekuan developed close to one hundred models, none of which succeeded in both preventing drip and controlling flow. An inward angle on the tip of the spout proved the right solution, preventing the sauce from pooling in the spout and dripping onto the table. More than three hundred million of these bottles have been sold worldwide.
Gallery label from This Is for Everyone: Design Experiments for the Common Good, February 14, 2015–January 31, 2016.