One of the most enduring objects in his 60-year design career — which includes the Akita bullet train and Yamaha motorbikes — is the Kikkoman soy-sauce dispenser. Introduced in 1961, it has been in continuous production ever since. 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. Ekuan pored over the newspaper cartoon “Blondie” for clues on American consumer culture. He enrolled at the National University of Fine Arts and Music in Tokyo, urging fellow students to give shape to a contemporary “Japanese lifestyle.”
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