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The Ground Zero of Design 1st Episode: Soy Sauce Cruet

Published : February 8, 2017
Production area : Uncategorized
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First, let me introduce myself. I am Yusuke Yonetsu, CEO of THE Co. Ltd. The company “THE” is a manufacturer that develops products in all fields from lacquerwares to electric bicycles. If you say “the” jeans, people know that indicates Levi’s 501. Likewise, there are standard products accompanying “the” for any product. What we do is explore and develop such standard-setting products. These products are not average products. Rather, they should be the standard that people imagine as a reference when selecting one product among others. So, these products are at ground zero of their class from which others try to follow or improve. What we do is examine this standard.

Today I would like to begin a monthly series titled “The Ground Zero of Design” to explore various iconic products. I hope you will enjoy the series.

Today I would like to begin a monthly series titled “The Ground Zero of Design” to explore various iconic products. I hope you will enjoy the series.

Form, History, Material, Function, and Price

There are several theories about the origin of soy source, but what is known for sure is that in the 700’s there was a job called Hishio-no-Tsukasa that handled soy source. Since then, its preservation and transportation methods have changed drastically time and again depending on the trends of the era.
Before the Edo period (1603-1868), it was common to use a pot to store soy sauce, but during the Edo period it is said that cedar barrels became more common due to its light and durable characteristics. This change occurred around the time soy sauce started to be industrially manufactured. It is known that people at the time would buy soy sauce using a tokkuri bottle or a pottery pot and then transfer the soy sauce to a home pot for storage.

Tokkuri bottles for soy sauce (collections from Noda City Museum)

Tokkuri bottles for soy sauce (collections from Noda City Museum)

Konpura ceramic bottles (collections from Kikkoman Institute for International Food Culture)

Konpura ceramic bottles (collections from Kikkoman Institute for International Food Culture)

Yuidaru, or bound barrel (collection from Kikkoman Institute for International Food Culture)

Yuidaru, or bound barrel (collection from Kikkoman Institute for International Food Culture)

During the Taisho period (1912-1926) after the Meiji Restoration, automated machines that produce glass bottles for storing and transporting soy sauce became common. The well-known soy sauce manufacturer Kikkoman was established in 1917, and soon after its establishment, they stared selling soy sauce in 1 sho bottles (1 sho = 1.8 liters).

Kikkoman soy sauce in 1.8 liter glass bottles

Kikkoman soy sauce in 1.8 liter glass bottles

In short, we now know that the material used for the transportation of soy sauce was changed from ceramic to wood over time and that bottles for storing at home were changed from ceramic to glass. But then what is the history of the soy sauce cruet for table use?
One of the masterpieces, the Model G soy sauce pot made by Hakusan Porcelain, was first launched in 1958. This still popular and widely used soy sauce cruet was designed by Masahiro Mori.

Various ceramic soy sauce cruets

Various ceramic soy sauce cruets

In 1961, just three years after the release of the Model G, the iconic Kikkoman soy sauce table dispenser was born. Before this, soy sauce was purchased in large bottles and then transferred to smaller bottles or cruets for use. However, the most innovative aspect of this product was that you could use it immediately after you bought it. This innovation was brought about by a product developer at Kikkoman who was still in his 20’s and designer Kenji Ekuan who later became the most important person in Japan’s industrial design field. (He was also in his 20’s at the time!)
In 1961, just three years after the release of the Model G, the iconic Kikkoman soy sauce table dispenser was born. Before this, soy sauce was purchased in large bottles and then transferred to smaller bottles or cruets for use. However, the most innovative aspect of this product was that you could use it immediately after you bought it. This innovation was brought about by a product developer at Kikkoman who was still in his 20’s and designer Kenji Ekuan who later became the most important person in Japan’s industrial design field. (He was also in his 20’s at the time!)

Kikkoman Soy sauce table dispenser (since 1961)
The design is also durable and comfortable to the touch when you hold it. It is just amazing that it also has a leakage prevention design at this price point that actually works!

Kikkoman Soy sauce table dispenser (since 1961) The design is also durable and comfortable to the touch when you hold it. It is just amazing that it also has a leakage prevention design at this price point that actually works!

In recent years this product has seen several variations to its design, such as spray-type dispensers, which have a stronger leakage prevention function, ceramic and silicon mixed material dispensers, vacuum bottles (e.g. Yamasa Sendo-no-Itteki), which have a double wall design to preserve freshness, and more reasonable multifunctional plastic dispensers.

Ceramic soy sauce pot by Porlex
This is a product with a ceramic body and a top made of silicon. Since silicon has a higher coefficient of friction than glass or ceramic, it has better leakage prevention. This product successfully mates the pleasing texture of ceramic with the functionality of silicon.

Ceramic soy sauce pot by Porlex This is a product with a ceramic body and a top made of silicon. Since silicon has a higher coefficient of friction than glass or ceramic, it has better leakage prevention. This product successfully mates the pleasing texture of ceramic with the functionality of silicon.

Spray cap dispenser
This one is easy to use but might not be chosen since other products have better designs.

Spray cap dispenser This one is easy to use but might not be chosen since other products have better designs.

Yamasa’s “Sendo-no-Itteki (Fresh Drop)” pouch (since 2009) 
This innovative design implemented a pouch container with a non-return valve, preventing oxidation and preserving freshness. But you cannot really call it a soy sauce cruet. The latest version of this product can keep soy sauce fresh for over 180 days. Simply amazing!

Yamasa’s “Sendo-no-Itteki (Fresh Drop)” pouch (since 2009) This innovative design implemented a pouch container with a non-return valve, preventing oxidation and preserving freshness. But you cannot really call it a soy sauce cruet. The latest version of this product can keep soy sauce fresh for over 180 days. Simply amazing!

Kikkoman’s “Istudemo-Shinsen (Always Fresh)” series bottle (since 2011)
Kikkoman developed a double-walled vacuum bottle with a non-return valve, keeping the product sealed inside. Its outer appearance stays the same even as the amount of soy sauce inside decreases while an inner bag deflates as the soy sauce is used. I think you can call it an evolution of their first soy sauce table dispenser.

Kikkoman’s “Istudemo-Shinsen (Always Fresh)” series bottle (since 2011) Kikkoman developed a double-walled vacuum bottle with a non-return valve, keeping the product sealed inside. Its outer appearance stays the same even as the amount of soy sauce inside decreases while an inner bag deflates as the soy sauce is used. I think you can call it an evolution of their first soy sauce table dispenser.

After looking back over the history of various products on the market, we can see to some extent that the ground zero soy sauce cruet should include the following features:

・Be leak proof
・Be spill resistant
・Be easily recognized as a soy sauce cruet
・Be easy to see how much soy sauce is inside
・Preserve freshness

The ground zero product must fulfill as many of these requirements as possible.

With this in mind, we can regard the Kikkoman soy sauce table dispenser as the ground zero soy sauce cruet as it has been with us over 50 years and fulfills all the requirements above except for freshness.

In recent years, consumers are preferring a more simplified packaging due to environmental concerns while the double-walled vacuum bottles are becoming more common in Japan. As a result, the Kikkoman soy sauce table dispenser is losing its footing in the market. I feel a bit sad knowing our mainstay of tableware is changing with the decrease of these iconic Kikkoman glass bottles.

Having learned the history of Japanese soy sauce, we at THE challenged ourselves to make a new soy sauce cruet based on our idea of this ground zero product by collaborating with the long-established glass manufacturer Ishizuka Glass, which was established in the Edo period.

We came up with “THE Soy Sauce Cruet”.
I welcome you can check it out on our website.

So how was this first episode of the Ground Zero of Design?
For the next episode, I will choose one of the most familiar products around us and try to find its ground zero. I hope you will join us next month!

Photos provided by:
Noda City Museum
Kikkoman Corporation
Japan Polex & co., Ltd.
Yamasa Corporation
(picture order in the article)

Writer: Yusuke Yonetsu

About the writer

Yusuke Yonetsu
Product Manager / CEO of THE Co. Ltd.,
http://the-web.co.jp
After graduating university, he worked for PLUS Corporation where he engaged mainly in product planning and product development as well as marketing. In 2012, he joined THE as Product Manager and was responsible for overall product management and business planning, which involved visiting manufacturers all over Japan, as well as product development, distribution, quality control, etc. He was promoted to CEO in March 2015. He co-authored the book “Misunderstanding of Design,” published by Shodensha in 2016.

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