You probably take it for granted while dining on sushi or dumplings, but that iconic Kikkoman soy sauce dispenser has been in production since 1961. And as the New York Times discovered, it was actually developed by a Japanese Navy sailor who dedicated his life to design when he left the service.
As the story goes, Kenji Ekuan’s younger sister was killed by the Hiroshima atomic blast, while radiation sickness took his father’s life a year later. And after seeing the devastation left by the bomb while riding the train home one day, he decided to dedicate his life to making and designing things. Over his 60 year career he was responsible for many recognizable designs, but none more ubiquitous or iconic than the Kikkoman soy sauce bottle.
Its unique shape took three years and over a hundred prototypes to perfect, but the teardrop design and dripless spout have become a staple of restaurant condiments all around the world. Over 300 million of the bottles have been sold since the design was first introduced, and besides the occasional special edition versions to commemorate anniversaries and other occasions, the bottle’s design hasn’t changed over the past 50 years. So the next time you’re drowning a California roll, stop and remember that you’re also enjoying a piece of history with your meal.
Anyone who knows Japan even a little will have visited Tokyo, or the temples in Kyoto, but what about the rest of the country? They very rarely get a mention, but we think it’s the people and places off the regular route where Japan’s real treasures are to be found.
For the pilot, we went to Shodoshima, a small island in the Inland Sea in central Japan, to visit a 200-year-old kabuki theatre, traditional soy-sauce and noodle factories, and Xerom, where they make minute, cutting-edge components for your camera or smartphone. And we stayed with the delightful Sasaki family, who have farmed on the island for generations.
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Ibonoito Somen is manufactured during a limited period between October and the following April (production peaks from December to February).
Salted water is added to flour and then kneaded well to create the dough. The dough is then stretched carefully to make one long strip of Somen. This is the traditional hand-stretching technique that originated in the Banshu area some six hundred years ago.
The dough may separate if it is forcibly stretched out to quickly make it thin. Instead, it should be stretched out as much as possible while being twisted. After it is left to ripen it is stretched out again.
This process of ripening and stretching is repeated several times to make Somen. The entire process consists of eleven steps.