Updated: Feb 20
｢A plastic container of soy sauce in the shape of a fish, which is always included when you buy a bento. This disposable seasoning plastic container "Luncharm" was developed by Teruo Watanabe, the founder of Asahi.
Inspiration of 1954; at one point conviction came to the mind of Teruo, who was reading the economic paper from corner to corner. "The era of economical polyethylene is about to come". At that time, the containers for soy sauce and other items in lunch boxes were all made of glass or pottery. "Even though it is disposable, it is dangerous because it breaks and the cost is high. If you make something cheap and safe, you can definitely sell it only to consumables".
"Making machines by trial and error; Machine-making began day after day. The idea was to fit a rolled plate on a long table, pour a polyethylene tube less than 2cms diameter into it, and inject soy sauce to cut it. In modern times, precision machines such as processing and cutting have been devised, but the idea was to cut them from scratch. The hardship was great. I made many mistakes, but I could'nt stop and made improvements".
Birth of launcher; finally Teruo said to his wife, who went to the factory, "I'm done! Look, I'm finally done!" The soy sauce that was full was shining brightly inside and the cut surface was tightly sealed, and there was no sign of soy sauce leaking. In this way, a machine and a product that had never existed was completed. "I'm applying to the Japan Patent Office. I'm sure it will sell. The product name is Luncharm"!｣
Some years ago I started collecting the little plastic bottles shaped like fish containing soy sauce that are contained within packs of ready-made sushi sold in supermarkets and the like. Like so many artists, I tend to hoard interesting things that may come in useful sometime in the future. This was the case with these intriguing simulacra of fish. Towards the end of 2020 I discovered a cache of the bottles in a cardboard box in my studio. I was working on my Inkling #7 at the time, and it coincided with the period the UK was about to leave the European Union :( and there were heated discussions amongst the politicians on both sides about fish quotas. As I looked more closely at the soy sauce fish bottles,I noted that they were manufactured in Japan, and this opened up a whole new dialogue around fish, food and sustainability. And the issue of micro plastics...
The collection I found in my studio consisted of two types from supermarket pre-packed sushi, one with a green cap, and one with a red cap. The green cap version is rather streamlined, and bears on one side the name SHODA JAPAN, and a logo/kamon. On the other side are the words NATURAL BREW SOY SAUCE. It has a rather simple o for an eye, and some lines on the tail fin and the dorsal fin to indicate spines. The red cap version is tubbier, and features more fish-like attributes, with scales, a pectoral fin, an eye made up of two circles, and two lines to indicate gills. It also features a rather unhappy-looking downturned mouth.
For my Inkling #7 at this time, and thinking about fish (see above), I decided to use these plastic soy sauce bottles within the artwork. I was at the time unconsciously aware that in Japan, the method that is employed to barbecue fish is to impale them on a bamboo stake around the burning charcoal. I removed the caps from the soy sauce fish, and set them on stakes along the top of the artwork. Eventually, I painted the fish orange, and then gilded them with 23 carat gold leaf.
Japanese fish barbecue
Plywood, plastic Luncharms & caps, wood, felt, magnifying sheet, inkjet prints, hardened modelling clay, brass tube, 23 Carat gold leaf, haberdashery trimming, Chinese plastic orange, fishnet fabric, paint.
Approx 60 x 42 x 24 cms
My visits to my studio have been infrequent between Christmas and New Year, and being stuck at home more, I was looking for creative ways to fill my time. The more I was looking at the plastic fish bottles, the more I felt I wanted to explore the possibility of customising them. A few years ago, I perfected a process of producing a hard sculptable material by mixing the commercial modelling clay 'DAS' with Rabbit Skin glue, and then subjecting the clay to baking in an oven to harden off successive layers. I visited my studio and collected the materials I needed, and then set about reproducing the plastic bottles at home. For the first, I copied the green cap version, and customised it with the kanji
福/Fortune. I also sourced plastic caps in imitation of the Luncharm screwcaps. This is the custom Luncharm copy that appears within Inkling #7.
I subsequently made a custom copy of the tubbier fish, and added my honorific O to the body, and gilded it. This Luncharm copy will eventually appear within Inkling #1, which is in progress currently.
I have now started making an even larger version, which is around 26 cms in length. I have no destination for this version, but curiousity drives the making, as it should. ŌŌ ŌôŌŌŌ
I am indebted to 立花愛海 for the research and translation of the Teruo Watanabe/Luncharm article at the start of this blog post.
The website for Asahi is here: