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Champions of Design: Kikkoman

The Japanese brand built on the simplicity of its core soy sauce product to take its elegant bottles worldwide.

More than 300 years ago, a maternal ancestor of Yuzaburo Mogi, the current chairman and chief executive of Kikkoman, began to learn the art of making Japanese soy sauce in the city of Noda. The city was ideally situated on the banks of the Edo river, which made transportation, as well as access to the necessary raw materials, very easy.

It was not long before Kikkoman became famous for its naturally made soy sauce. Word of it reached travellers from the Netherlands, who referred to the product as 'liquid gold'. They saw such potential in soy sauce that they took it home and established it firmly in European markets. Kikkoman soy sauce received high praise in Europe, winning awards at expos in Vienna and Amsterdam in 1873 and 1881.

In 1917, the Noda Shoyu Company was founded by the Mogi and Takanashi families. It retained this name until 1964, when it was renamed the Kikkoman Shoyu Company; by 1980 the business had adopted the Kikkoman Corporation name by which it is known today.

The name Kikkoman is deeply entrenched in Japanese culture. In Japanese, 'Kikko' means turtle shell, while 'man' means 10,000. Turtles are symbols of happiness, riches and long life because, according to Japanese legend, the creatures are said to live to be 10,000 years old; hence the choice of company name. The logo on Kikkoman products is a hexagon, symbolising the turtle, within which sits the character for 10,000.

Kikkoman's core soy sauce product is produced to a traditional Japanese recipe that uses only four ingredients: water, soya beans, wheat and salt. Nothing is rushed during the lengthy brewing process, and no artificial colourings, flavourings or additives are added.

Over the several months of fermentation that are required to create Kikkoman's deep reddish-brown colour and rich aromas, it is said that it begins to take on hundreds of different aromas, which, to an expert, can be picked out as vanilla and coffee, among others. The final quality is 'umami', a Japanese word meaning 'savoury sensation', which gives the soy sauce its unique flavour.

The company has developed its product range greatly over the years, adding lines such as Sukiyaki, 'less-salt' soy sauce and a sweet sauce for rice dishes.

Today, approximately 400m litres of Kikkoman soy sauce are produced every year by a 6500-strong workforce. The company has operations in Asia, Australia, North America and Europe.


BRAND LESSON

Silas Amos, creative strategist, JKR

By Silas Amos, creative strategist, JKR

Here is a design that combines a philosophical view with a rigorous process. The designer, Kenji Ekuan, saw the wreckage of Hiroshima and, 'faced with nothingness', decided to become a maker of things. The Kikkoman bottle is truly cross-cultural. Ekuan drew inspiration from the US culture that occupied post-war Japan, reflected in the streamlined curves; yet the bottle's silhouette is true to the simplicity and elegance of the most traditional Japanese design.

Ancestral aesthetics were re-expressed in modern materials - the glass is virtually unbreakable and the non-drip spout (based on an inverted teapot) was highly innovative. One sees this 'old and new' approach in the folklore origins of the brand mark, which is rendered and applied with such modernist confidence. The imperial red cap contrasts with the bottle's curves, yet the whole feels harmonious. This is design as poetry and good grammar.

It took years, and more than 100 prototypes, to achieve the right design. The result would be almost impossible to better. An everyday object that adds beauty to the tables it graces; a vessel that defines its category; something so 'right' that it sells in the hundreds of millions globally. This bottle is evidence that the most elegant solutions are the simplest. In its sculptural utility, it shows that the best packaging design is really great product design.


TIMELINE

1917: The Mogi and Takanashi families founded a company called Noda Shoyu Co.

1925: Noda Shoyu Co. Ltd merged with Noda Shoyu Jozo Co. Ltd, Manjo Mirin Co. Ltd and Nippon Shoyu Co.

1930:  The Takasago soy-sauce production plant was constructed just outside Osaka.

1957: Kikkoman International Inc. was established in the US, based in San Francisco, California.

1964: The company was renamed Kikkoman Shoyu Co.

1974: Kikkoman Shoyu Co. Ltd set up Kikkoman Restaurant.

1980: The company name changed again, from Kikkoman Shoyu Co. to the Kikkoman Corporation.

1990: Kikkoman bought the marketing rights to the Del Monte brand in the Asia-Pacific region, excluding the Phillipines.

1996: In the Ojima Plant in Japan, the company began to produce shochu, a clear Japanese spirit.

2008: In June it introduced a fresh corporate brand and slogan.

2009: Kikkoman changed its structure to a holding company.

View more Champions of Design

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