About Kenji Ekuan


Kenji Ekuan

The chairman and iconic symbol of the GK Design Group passed away on February 8th 2015. Mr. Ekuan was an ambassador for the design community and known throughout the world. He dreamed of big things and worked to accomplish them, as evidenced by his legacy of thirteen design offices spread over four countries, a multitude of design awards, and scores of published books and articles. Mr. Ekuan simply loved design, he believed design had no limit in its ability to solve mans problems, and he made design his soul mission in life.  

Mr. Ekuan’s life was full of experiences, rare to most people who even lived during the same period. His hometown of Hiroshima was the site of the first use of an atomic weapon; he often mentioned the striking sight of “nothing” where the city he was born in was suddenly gone, he also experienced the subsequent U.S. occupation. I never heard him speak bitterly about either event, he only spoke about his inspiration to help his country recover and restore a “usual” life for the people. Mr. Ekuan trained as a Buddhist priest early in his life, I imagine this was a profound influence, it gave him an uncommon clarity about life, and how to use the gifts he was given. His spirituality was revealed in many of his works, and he often used ancient folklore when speaking about modern society.

He was also among the first group of Japanese to graduate from the U.S. design school (Art Center college of Design in Los Angeles.) Being away from Japan gave him perspective and insight about the uniqueness of his own country; which in time led to the forming of GK’s design philosophy. Ideas such as “Small but Powerful” and “Compact Culture” were often used in our design. His examination of the Japanese Bento Box in his book “The Aesthetics of the Japanese lunch box” and its relationship to Japan’s culture, is another such insight I feel was made possible by his time spent abroad. This book became the unofficial text book of GK design.  

Mr. Ekuan was a design pioneer through the formative years of the Industrial Design profession. He spent countless hours as the president of ICSID (International Council of Societies of Industrial Design) and JIDA (Japanese Industrial Design Association) in the promotion of Industrial Design to Industry and Academics around the world.  

In 1957 Mr. Ekuan opened the doors of GK Design and seemingly never took a day off afterwards. It was truly his second family.  

In his later years, I sensed that many people thought of him as a design statesman of sorts, but inside of GK he was very active. His project “Flying High in the Sky” an exhibit in his hometown of Hiroshima, turned out to be his Swan Song. The exhibit included the life work of Mr. Ekuan and GK Design. The eclectic subjects spanned products of utility: motorcycles, trains, tractors, housing, etc. to the metaphysical such as his vision of utopia complete with a transcendent mechanical bird fashioned entirely from titanium and floating above a sea of glowing lotus flowers; this mechanical creatures purpose was to transport souls by soaring to heaven. His broad view of the world and the world beyond, is what made Mr. Ekuan unique and a fantastic thinker.  

To those outside of the GK Design Group, he may forever be remembered as the designer of the Kikkoman Soy Sauce bottle, but for us, he was GK’s father.  

Norman Kerechuk
President GK Design International Incorporated


The Life and Career Of Kenji Ekuan
  • 1929 Born In Tokyo
  • 1955 Graduated from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music
  • 1957 Established GK Industrial Design Associates and took office as President
  • 1970 Elected President of JIDA (Japan Industrial Designer’s Association)
  • 1971 Executive Chairman of the Organizing Committee for ICSID ’73 Congress, Kyoto
  • 1975 Elected President of ICSID (International Council of Societies of Industrial Design)
  • 1983 Appointed Chairman of the Committee for Exposition Facilities for Tsukuba EXPO ’85
  • 1983 Appointed Member of the Steering Committee for The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
  • 1985 Executive Producer of the Osaka Design Festival ’85
  • 1987 Appointed Co-General Producer of the World Design Exposition ’89, Nagoya
  • 1992 Appointed Chairman of the “Design – Up” committee for Tokyo Metropolis
  • 1995 Appointed Member of the Traditional Craft Industries Council.
2015 Status
  • Chairman of Design for the World
  • Senator of ICISID
  • Chairman of the Japan Institute of Design
  • Honorary chairman of the Forum Douguology
Awards and Honors
  • ICSID Colin King Grand Prix (ICSID, 1979)
  • Honorary doctor of Science from Art Center College of Design (USA, 1981)
  • International Design Award (Japan Design Foundation, 1987) WORLDESIGN Award (IDSA, USA, 1988)
  • The Award for contributions to Design Promotion (Japan, 1992)
  • The Blue Ribbon Medal (Japan, 1992)
  • JIDA Grand Prix (Japan, 1993)
  • Sir Misha Black Medal (England, 1996)
  • Officier de L’Ordre des Arts et des letters (France, 1997)
  • Honorary Doctor form London Institute (England, 1999)
  • The Order of the Rising Sun (Japan, 2000)
  • Honorary Doctor form University of Art and Design Helsinki (Finland, 2001)
  • Lucky Strike Designers Award (2003)
  • The Insignia of Commander in the Order of the Lion of Finland (Finland, 2004)
  • The International Scientific and Technological Cooperation Award of The People’s Republic of China (2005)
  • Lifetime Achievement Award (Hong Kong Design Center, 2010)
  • Premio Compasso d’Oro ADI alla Carriera Internazionale (Associazione per il Disegno Industriale, 2014)
The World of Kenji Ekuan and GK Design Group: Soaring High in the Sky (Setagaya Art Museum, 2013)
  • Dougu Ko (historical and philosophical analysis of the roles of “tools” in the life of man); published by Kajima Institute Publishing Co., Ltd. Tokyo 1967
  • Industrial Design (the world of Dougu, its origins, its future); published by Japan Broadcast Publishing Co., Ltd. (NHK Book), Tokyo 1971
  • Design; published by Nikkei Inc., Tokyo 1972
  • Makunouchi Bento no Bigaku (the aesthetics of the Makunouchi Lunch Box); Published by Goma Shobo Co., Ltd. Tokyo 1980
  • The Philosophy of Tools; published by PHP publishers, Kyoto 1980
  • The aesthetics of Japanese Lunchbox; published by MIT PRESS, USA 1998
  • Industrial Design is Exciting; published by KAWADE SHOBO SHINSHA, Publishers, Tokyo 2000
  • The Discourses of Dougu; published by Kajima Institute Publisheing Co., Ltd. Tokyo 2000
  • Raising Dougu Temple and Village; published by Kajima Institute Publishing Co., Ltd. Tokyo 2006
  • Devoting Myself to Design: published by Shunju-sha Publishing Company 2009
  • Kesa and Design; published by Geijutsu-shuppansha Co.,Ltd. 2011