Sixty years earlier around the time that Kenji Ekuan had established the group with several likeminded associates, he was enrolled in the design course in the Department of Crafts at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. As Japan shifted from a period of postwar restoration to rapid economic growth, the entrepreneurial spirit needed to launch a design firm with a view to manufacturing(monozukuri) in the future was completely unprecedented.
The trajectory of this spirit forms the 60-year history of GK, a company that has produced contless works associated with the economic growth of postwar Japan. Everytime I see important GK designs such as the Kikkoman soy sauce table dispenser or the Yamaha YA-1 motorcycle, I am reminded of the deeply significant role industrial design played in the country's economic growth. In recent years, there has been a movement to adopt design as a core growth strategy in Japan and neighboring countries. This is a testament to the fact that outstanding design has increasingly come to be recognized all over the world for its essential ability to enrich people's lives and society as a whole.
Ekuan's keen ability to anticipate such acceptance is truly remarkable, but the reason he has continued to be so creative for so long is not simply due to coming up with designs for various industrial products. Rather, it is rooted in the fact that Ekuan has developed a wide range of activities that extend far beyond the confines of manufacturing, encompassing everything from basic design theory to the development of a global design movement. While maintaining a close link between theory and practice, and achieving long-term growth, GK's corporate actives are conspicuous for their utter originality.
And at the heart of GK stands Kenji Ekuan, a leader not only in Japanese design but also in the international design world. Design is a profession that hinges on creating designs for visible things, and this practice has been sustained by Ekuan's unique spirituality. Creativity is now seen as a given in producing the competivity is now in manufacturing, but this was reflected long ago in the day-to-day work undertaken at the GK which relies on the pillars of "movement, business, research" as fundamental principles of creativity. And it is exactly because these principles succinctly capture the essence of manufacturing that they have cultivated so much creativity. The assertion that outstanding things are a product of the creator's spirit is well known, but continuing to pursue such a path without hesitation is what results in true creativity.
The cornerstone of GK's design lies in the dougu (tool) discourse that Ekuan has championed since very early on. By altering the reading of the kanji characters in the word "dougu" to mean "things that are composted of the Way," Ekuan set out to establish "douguology" as a new field of study that was not merely limited to the superficial forms o things or corporate management theories. Though douguology, he attempted to examine the relationship between people and things in a more thorough manner. Long ago, there were many studies that considered the relationship between people and society, but there was nothing concerned with the state of things. This became Ekuan's quest and it is also this aspiration that led to the birth of douguology. In contemporary society, the relationship between people and things remains fraught with difficult problems. Perhaps the most crucial problem is the global environment. The perspective Ekuan offers us, however, is equipped with both a vast breadth and a far-reaching scope.
It is often said that design is a way of giving order to the human heart and the realm of things. In everything from social structure to the workings to the global environment, there seems to be an order to our souls and the state of thing. As the long-standing theme of achieving a compatible relationship between economy and environment suggests, that human race and the world face problems of extraordinary complexity. With this in mind, the theme that Kenji Ekuan and GK have continued to pursue —i.e., a harmony between the "soul and material things" — has assumed an even greater sense of importance. It is my sincere hope that a reexamination of the essential questions Ekuan and GK have presented to contemporary society will help nourish us as we move toward a richer future.