Is three years too much to ask?
There was a great interview with the designer of the Kikkoman soy-sauce dispenser, Kenji Ekuan, in The New York Times this week. He talks about its technical aesthetic and philosophical aspects. Post World War II he notes, “For me it represents not the new Japan, but the real Japan. The shape is so gentle. Of course, during the war, we were forced into acting differently. But for a long time, some 1,000 years, the history of the Japanese people was very gentle.”
The bottle is a distillation of many inspirations, from traditional Japanese shapes, to an embracing of post-war American design (one might see the influence of Raymond Loewy as well as Japanese elegance and simplicity in the bottle’s teardrop silhouette). The innovative double opening, dripless spout was based on a teapot, inverted. This non-drip breakthrough made the vessel ‘table worthy’. The East also meets West in the use of the tough, industrial materials. The bottle is reusable and almost indestructible.
But the really eye opening fact is that this design was perfected over an impressive three year period. Over a hundred prototypes were made. I don’t think this can be put down to a Zen like whimsy. On the contrary, post-war Japan was on an urgent mission to industrialise and design was seen as crucial to the nation’s rebirth. So that three years can be viewed more in the tradition of Thomas Edison, with his thousands of failed light bulbs on the journey to breakthrough. “Ten percent inspiration, ninety percent perspiration” as this inventor defined genius.
And yet this beautiful and functional bottle is, at the end all that effort, sublime. Not a word one typically hears as a target for design briefs. A fanciful one perhaps? Yet if achieved it makes for great business – 300 million bottles have been sold so far in 70 countries. Would the figure have been as big on a six month timeline? We all like to be busy bees. But perhaps relentless hi rev activity, in truth, only results in a fraction of the worth of work given the proper time to be honed and perfected.