Yamaha V-Max Designer Kenji Ekuan Dies

From soy sauce bottle to bullet trains to the fantastic quote “The motorcycle is sex,” the design world has lost one of the greats.

Yamaha V-Max studio 3/4 view photo

Industrial designer Kenji Ekuan upgraded from legend to demigod this week, shedding his body at age 85 after a lifelong meditation on the relationship between humans and designed objects. Ekuan's GK Design group, founded in 1957, is hailed every time you raise your chopsticks, as his Kikkoman red-cap soy sauce bottle sits beside you. That 1961 design is now ubiquitous, and as taken for granted as the Coke bottle, a few of which he also shaped. Obits also mention his bullet trains and other transport. But most important to us in motorcycling is his work on the Yamaha V-Max, which GK first designed in 1985, and redesigned in 2008, a trick few firms have pulled off with such panache.

Yamaha had no in-house design department until 2014, and relied almost exclusively on GK Design until they hired Akihiro “Dezi” Nagaya away from Toyota last year. That 55-year relationship between Yamaha and GK is a remarkable partnership, akin to Pininfarina and Ferrari, although motorcyclists have yet to see a designer like Ekuan lauded on the champagne lawns of a Pebble Beach Concours. No matter. Kenji Ekuan understood the superior relationship of humans with motorcycles, and famously stated “The motorcycle is sex.”

Kenji Ekuan portrait photo

In 1989, GK Design grew an offshoot, GK Dynamics, and celebrated with an exhibit of its work, “Man-Machine-Soul-Energy,” overseen by Atsushi Ishiyama, VP of GK Dynamics (He’s now president). The accompanying catalog is hardly the usual blah blah about excellence and dynamics; it’s an eyebrow-raising treatise on “expressions of eroticism through mechanism,” and the motorcycle as “sexual analogy.” And then it goes off into the fantastic-bizarro while discussing the “Eve Machina,” a Yamaha TZR with transparent femme-sexy ectoplasmic bodywork, a manifestation of “the technology known as the Apple of Eden.”

We must continue: “While the ‘karma’ of the machine and the ‘karma’ of the man continue to challenge and repel each other sexually through their flesh, they achieve the joy of a living unity, effecting an ever richer functioning of their sensitivities and intellects. It is here that we find the deep significance of the love-technology of the ‘man-machine.’ In this context, the motorcycle is the love toy of the human being called Adam, his ‘Eve Machina.’ This Eve is not Adam’s slave of love, but it is, rather, a master who gives Adam consummate love.”

I’m buying a V-Max, like now. Godspeed, Kenji Ekuan, rock-sex-biker demigod.

Kenji Ekuan.

Yamaha V-Max.

Kikkoman soy sauce bottle.

Komachi bullet train.

Tetsumaru via Wikimedia Commons