Japanese industrial designer Kenji Ekuan, whose works ranged from a bullet train to the red-capped Kikkoman soy sauce dispenser as familiar as the classic Coca-Cola bottle, has died, his company said. He was 85. A former monk, Ekuan crafted a tabletop bottle for Kikkoman Corp. in 1961, winning international popularity both for the handy, flask-shaped dispenser and of course for the salty brown condiment flavoring many Asian cuisines. He has said he wanted to design a small bottle because of his childhood memory of his mother pouring soy sauce from a big half-gallon bottle to a tabletop dispenser. Other of his renowned works include the Yamaha VMAX 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 originate from the sights of Hiroshima's devastation after the US atomic bombing of the city 70 years ago. He heard the voices of street cars, 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 became a monk at a Hiroshima temple to succeed his father, who died due to 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 founded his design studio two years later. His office, GK Industrial Design Group, said today that Ekuan died of a heart problem at a Tokyo hospital early Saturday. (Read more bullet train stories.)