No excuse for couch potatoes! The dumbbell-shaped bottle of Suntory’s ‘LET’S’ diet-drink practically drags you to your workout. In the ad it even makes a digital sloth move.

Japanese Packaging Design #5: Nifty PET bottles!

Yep, we know PET bottles come with environmental baggage – and with the Eco Fair in Tokyo last week we had hoped to see some alternatives… but we can’t ignore the alluring, curvy shapes that Japanese manufacturers keep coming up with. There are around 13,000 new products thrown onto the shelves of konbini and supermarkets every year – so designers are really pumping out the goods! PingMag presents some of the cleverest PET bottle designs and tells what they reveal about consumers!

Written by Bianca Beuttel

First, a word about ecological matters. A huge amount of PET resin is used for these bottles in Japan: in 2006, 515,414 tons were utilised just for soft drink packaging! When the Council for PET Bottle Recycling was founded in 1993, they recorded that only 0.4 percent of PET bottles was recycled. Since then the figure has increased to 65.6 percent (2005 figure).

And the rest? Dumped, burnt or sold abroad… but surely some people could be charmed by all these amazing new PET bottle shapes, and keep them to re-use them.

Gyrating Shapes

1. Express Yourself Or Impress Others With Your (PET Bottle) Style

Dydo continues their ‘simply style’ series with this Darjeeling black tea in red. Utmost minimalism for a simple tea bottle! Recently the range was expanded with a milk tea in blue.

That heading sounds weird, doesn’t it? But it’s a real slogan used by the PET bottle industry. You might be already familiar with the ‘simply design’ beverage series from our excursion into Japanese product poetry. This is polarising, no doubt; but it clearly shows that beverages, as well as chewing gum and snacks, are an accessory – like fashion items, mobile phones or iPods. Now, what does this tea bottle and its shape tell us about its consumers, their personality and attitude? Encased in a striking sleeve of saturated primary colour, there is no decoration other than a little text in a tiny font… Must be a minimalist! Well it worked on us…

2. Floral Notes

A Jasmine tea makeover: Suntory’s Jasmine Tea got more colourful (and its consumers…). On the left, the design from spring 2006; on the right, a more recent one.

In an age of product pluralism, so many styles have to continuously compete against each other. Take, for example, this fashionable, cute floral design of Suntory Jasmine Tea: Although the graphic design of the product above was varied, its characteristics remained. It is a delicate integration of the Jasmine tea colour with white flower patterns on the bottle that conveys the beverage’s aroma.

3. The Liberation Of Conventional Shapes

On the left: The conventional bottle of Kirin Beverage’s Afternoon Black Tea. Their special editions are presented in an exclusive bottle with a facet cut: Milk Tea (middle) and Earl Grey Tea (right).

Look at the ‘Afternoon Black Tea’ example on the left: PET bottles often have a quite prosaic appearance with typical ribs for bracing the bottle against deformations that could occur during manufacturing processes. It is then left to the graphic design on the sleeve to compensate and create a pleasant mood.
However, as illustrated by the special editions of ‘Afternoon Black Tea’ (gogo no ko-cha), fresher shapes are on the rise.

4. Surfaces I: Exquisite Crystal

Who would have thought of a tea bottle in the shape of a crystal carafe? Twinkling detail of Suntory’s Oolong Tea in the ‘Crystal cut’ PET bottle.

When the ‘Crystal cut’-bottle of Suntory’s Oolong Tea was launched in 2005, its commercials tried to link the drink with images of cut crystal glasses. For your tea indulgence!

5. Surfaces II: Sparks of Imagination

Lipton’s Limone Tea’ bottle looks like ribbed glass. Elegant! Their recent Chiffon Milk Tea has a bottle with the same fine-tuned surface.

6. The Value Of Brand Recognition: Bamboo I

Various shapes and appealing labels of one series: Suntory’s green tea series features a limited design with bright red autumn leaves (far right).

In Japan, the bamboo stem used to be the traditional container for beverages. Suntory has applied this image to its ‘Lemon Green Tea’ series so successfully that new products in the range are easily recognised.

7. Identities: Bamboo II

New product in the same old bottle, both by Kirin Beverage: The former bamboo grass-flavoured Green Tea (left) and Z7 (right.)

Launched in April 2006, the bamboo grass-flavoured Green Tea (sasa to o-cha) disappeared from the market – but its bottle has returned – holding an isotonic drink! Since buying decisions for soft drinks are made instantly, there is nothing more important than an eye-catching and immediately comprehensible product. The message of the bamboo grass-flavoured Green Tea was clear, but what are the Z7’s scientific and dynamic-looking graphics on the bamboo trying to tell us?

8. Voluptuous Curves

Weird looking plastic bottles! Amazing! Water from the bottle gourd is dressed according to the season: Spring/Summer 07 (left); Autumn/Winter 06 (right).

Another traditional container was the bottles gourd, especially for on the road. The ‘Water from the bottle gourd’ (hyotan kara mizu) brand adopts this custom in a contemporary plastic shape: It comes with a carrying strap, taking nature’s patterns to a new abstract level with its sleeves.

9. It Comes Handy

The so-called Refreshing Health and Beauty Tea (left) by Coca Cola Japan and its seasonal, poetic-sounding blends: ‘Autumn Venus’ (middle) and ‘Winter Venus’ (left).

This blended tea with herbs is called ‘Refreshing Health and Beauty Tea’ (soken-bi-cha.) And how practical that its slender waist makes this ‘Fit-bottle’ easy to grip; it seems to also serve as inspiration to women! In a survey by Nikkei Design magazine (issue July 2006, page 70 to 71,) the bottle’s appearance was described as suggesting health benefits. How appropriate for its contents.

10. Slim Lines

Just by looking at this shed shape you will get a bikini body: Jasmine Tea from the Love Body series in the ‘Slim-bottle’ by Coca Cola Japan; only available in convenience stores.

The ‘Slim-bottle’ debuted with a special edition of the ‘Love Body’ series to support diet. Well, when viewed from different angles the bottle reminds us of those Before and After pictures you see in campaigns about weight loss products. But basically the bottle is designed to efficiently use the space in your bag. That function was instantly apparent to 90 percent of the participants of yet another consumer survey by Nikkei Design magazine. Interestingly, 57.3 percent of the participants would choose this slim bottle instead of an ordinary one, assuming that both cost the same. We are sure that you’d all want to look as slim as this bottle!

11. Less Is More – Meaning, Less Content At Higher Prices

Stylishly designed, but less content. From left to right: Premium Calpis by Calpis; I-Tea by Kirin Beverage; ‘Milk and Matcha (powdered green tea) from Uji’ by Kirin Beverage in collaboration with Koiwai dairy. In the same bottle you will also get Kirin’s Special Selected Fine Green Tea.

Less is more, and we all know the strategy of keeping something rare which adds to its ‘premium quality.’ Only, if you experience this concept on a Combini shelf, you find yourself with less content at a higher price. The sales motto would be: Charge ¥180 for 350ml of ‘I-Tea’ instead of ¥140 for 500ml of common ‘Afternoon Black Tea’ (both ‘manufacturer’s suggested retail price’ without tax) to upgrade a simple green tea to a classy product. We aren’t sure if you will find yourself savouring a simple PET bottle drink…

12. Shapes Adjusted to Sparkling…

Need some special attention: Bottles for sparkling drinks like Fanta (left) by Coca Cola Japan or hot drinks like the Intense Green Tea (ôi o-cha koi aji) by Itoen (right).

In Japan, ‘Fanta’ comes in the oddly-shaped ‘Bubble-bottle’, which is an example of Universal Design according to Coca Cola. The bottle aims to be comfortable to grip, but also screams “I’m bursting at the seams!”

Looking at such a bottle, you might notice that its material is much thicker than those of non-carbonated beverages. How come? To save resources and energy, engineers have thinned these PET bottles to the minimum. But due to the pressure of carbonic acid gas, they have to remain sturdy.

…Or Hot Contents

Also, there are other bottles adjusted to their contents. In the winter months, these smaller bottles are a welcome sight.
They are crafted from a material known as ‘Hot PET’, which consists of two oxygen-absorbing layers sandwiched between three PET layers. This is necessary since regular PET allows oxygen through. More details here.

It’s All About The Details

”Universal Design”

Once again, details of and about the so-called ‘Fit-bottle’ and ‘Slim-bottle.’

‘Hand’ is a good transition to ‘handiness,’ or once again Universal Design as expressed by Coca Cola.


On the left: The cap of the above-mentioned ‘simply design’ Darjeeling; on the right: the closure of Suntory’s DAKARA – a popular ‘body-balance drink.’

Most of the manufacturers just print their logo on the cap; however, as seen in the example of the orange caps above which indicate the hot beverages, it can be a valuable detail to convey practical functions as well as brand messages.

Recycling Matters

Detail of the perforated bottle sleeve – to make separating the trash easier.

To get back to the environmental issue, most of the sleeves are made from materials other than PET and thus need to be removed for recycling. This is why all sleeves have a perforation. Please also note this additional improvement for glass bottle labels.

We are sure you enjoyed all these amazing, wonderful PET bottle shapes we find all over Japan! Did you come across any interesting forms recently in your country – if so, let us know, please!

  • bhumika

    Wow, these are amazing! In India, the traditional pet bottle shapes rule. However, recently a couple of companies have tried to experiment with the shapes but that has never become the point of attraction during the product sale. I believe, packaging can become a strong USP for any product but it’ll take some time before it catches up bigtime in India.

  • otakugirl

    Amazing! Not only the design but also the fact that there is green tea in PET bottles. Even Coca-Cola products have more delicate style in Japan.

  • Akai

    Wow! Look at those Suntory bottles!
    And that Fanta! :O
    I’ve seen that Itoen tea in a television show where a magician performs tricks with it!
    Totally awesome!

  • Badger

    Premium Calpis… I want it.

  • celaby6691

    the green tea one is soooooo nice it tastes like the starbucks green tea frappucino (i want T__T)

  • randy

    packaging is big in japan, as important as the content. but we are rather freaked at the amount of plastic we get when buying normal groceries. the lack of consciousness of how much 100,000 year detritus is being generated is a bit shocking.

  • HEDOfloe

    I seriously wish that every culture were so visually in-tune. It’s so amazing that even packaging of disposables is taken so seriously. I love it~

  • angellesmell

    i love packages

  • angellesmell

    i love pingmag

  • little

    i love simple design!~~~~~~~

  • may

    nice! i’m using a plastic bottle from muji right now but i’m eyeing some of these…

  • Joseph K

    I’ve always thought the Suntory Iemon series to be some of the most well designed PET bottles on the market. The balance of the type, the colours, and the attention to detail – though obviously without overexertion. It’s interesting to see the other companies attempt to copy some part of the design every so often, but I’ve never seen anything come close. It also has the best use of the Outer Glow Photoshop filter that drink label designers, especially PET ones, love to abuse at every opportunity…!

    I hadn’t seen that Lipton Limone bottle before, but the overall design bellows a resounding “~dishwashing detergent~”, doesn’t it?

    Thanks for the technical info on hot-PET, and those new innovations in glass bottle label recyclability, too. Interesting stuff.

  • Joseph K

    Oh yeah, I would be surprised if Ito En paid their graphic designers even half as much any of their competitors. They really really need to lift their game.
    (I mean, you only picked one of their bottles to show, and it’s a rather dodgy version of the 濃いめ Iemon bottle – I don’t know which came first so I won’t say knock-off, but it’s pretty clear which one feels superior…)

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  • Nate

    Wow, this website is an enormous waste of time

  • Aozora

    I miss The Premium Calpis..

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  • Jorge Sanabria

    Thank you for opening the window to PET world, I will stop more often to analyze the bottles I drink from instead of just throw them away after finishing.
    Love the slim concept, it’s very kansei, 分かりやすいね! Cheers!

  • Chidade

    I always appreciated how the 2 litre bottles of water were designed in Japan. Easy to grip around the middle, have one next to your bed in case you need a drink during the night. Less likely to spill or get contaminated by something than a glass!

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  • Oliver Charles Lardner

    Qoo have standard bottles but creative labels and lids. I like the different faces on each lid :)

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  • Tomi

    What waste….

  • Valerie

    Here are a few jasmine tea bottles to add to the mix, based on some I’d purchased in the US:

  • Valentin

    Very interesting article!

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  • nin

    hey that’s “i”emon Green Tea,
    not “l”emon

  • Yuu

    hyotan kara mizu with muffler! omoshiroi

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