Kenji Ekuan

(b. 1929)

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(1929– )

A founding member of the internationally renowned Japanese consultancy GK Design, Ekuan has been responsible for many designs of note ranging from the pioneering Kikkoman soy sauce bottle through to Yamaha motorcycles, the Narita NEX express train, and the Akita bullet train. He was an important pioneer of industrial design in Japan, playing a key role in the bringing together of designers and leading organizations and writing eloquently on the meaning of objects in everyday life. He graduated from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in 1955 having studied under the highly influential teacher Iwataro Koike alongside Shinji Iwasaki, Kenichi Shibata, and Haratsugu Ito, who together became known as the ‘Group Koike’, the core of GK Design. Ekuan played an important role in the company's success through his ability to develop a network of industrial contacts and play significant roles in a number of design organizations. In 1960 he was elected president of the Japan Industrial Designers Association (1960) and in 1976 his international standing was confirmed by his election to the presidency of ICSID (the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design). In 1987 he was awarded the prestigious biennial Osaka International Design Award, one of many such awards he has received. Ekuan gained a reputation for a philosophical approach to design that doubtless derived from his training as a Buddhist priest prior to his design education in Tokyo. In an essay of 1984 entitled ‘Smallness as an Idea’ he wrote of the butsudan, a small portable Buddhist altar that could be placed in the home as a means of communicating with one's ancestors, part of a Japanese outlook in which material products are endowed with spiritual values. A later, more fashionable text, The Aesthetics of the Japanese Lunchbox (1998), further developed this idea of an interrelationship between Japanese traditions and contemporary design practices. He suggested that the lunchbox is a key to understanding the Japanese way of making things and that ‘the spirit of [its] form …points to an ingenious technology that will preserve a rich legacy for the future’. Other key texts by Ekuan include Industrial Design: The World of Dogu, its Origins, its Future (1971), The Philosophy of Tools (1980), and The Buddhist Automobile and the Automobile (1986). Other roles played by Ekuan included directorship of the Street Furniture Committee at the Expo '70 World's Fair and executive producer of the International Design Festival at Osaka (1983).

Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.

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