Around eight months ago I encountered a Japanese-English magazine, produced to an extremely high standard, concerning the history, people and culture of my Japanese home city, Kurashiki. Its name is Krash Japan. After being given a copy of the free magazine at a second-hand clothes store, I emailed the editor- who lives in the same area of Kurashiki as me, Kojima- to see if I could get involved. His name is Akahoshi Yutaka, and he introduced me to the person whom this post concerns, artist and craftsman Masahiro Kawabe.
To make a long story short, and to paraphrase Krash Japan itself (which relates the details of Kawabe-san’s life far better than I could), Kawabe is an artist who lives and works in Shimotsui, an area of Kojima adjacent to the Seto-Ohashi bridge. He has lived there since birth and works on stainless steel nuts, such as the one pictured above. He turns these nuts into rings, works of art shaped over months by the simple process of filing day-in, day-out. Kawabe never commits a design to paper, and uses no machines when creating these rings; instead he holds the idea in his head as he shapes the material in front of him. All that he does ask for when he creates these rings, specially to order, is a theme. So continues Krash Japan…
When working on a given theme, he does not begin for at least a month. He goes on with his regular daily activity. However, the theme is constantly in his mind, waiting for the moment when an obscure image suddenly appears. The image can be visual, a tone, or in other forms. Once an image comes to mind, it is put into concrete form. Everything is done inside his head, up to the final design. He leaves nothing on paper. He faces the hexagonal nut with file in hand, only when he can picture the final design in his head. “I only ask for a theme and not a visual image. I have created what I myself have imagined from that theme. It is a selfish way which I have no intention of changing. I am, therefore, grateful to the people who order based on that understanding.”
Kawabe is personable, kind and has a great sense of humour. Earlier this week I was at the cafe hangout of Kawabe and Yutaka, in Kojima, and he related a story to me about how the local yakuza boss came to visit him, after a ring! Kawabe’s rings have become increasingly well profiled, his work fetching several “man yen” (around 100 pounds each) in fashionable Tokyo and Osaka stores. Yet Kawabe is modest and friendly, the exact opposite of what you would expect from such an “artiste”. He does however possess an entirely individual style and manner.
I feel honoured that Kawabe has decided to make a ring for me, in exchange for an unspecified “interesting item” from the UK- he could have charged me the 100 pounds or so his work regularly fetches, yet was intrigued by the idea of receiving an item bought in a flea market 5000 miles away from where he has always lived. In making a ring for me, Kawabe asked for a theme. The theme I gave him was 明 瞭, “meiryo”, or clarity. It’s my hope that in wearing this ring the clouds of confusion that currently hang over my future will clear, and I’ll have a better idea of what to do with my life. The ring will take several months to make, and I look forward to receiving it- an item that, far from being made from precious material, will be treasured due to the time, energy and thought put into it by a truly gifted craftsmen.
Photographs nicked from Krash Japan website, taken by Kunitoshi Yabe.
Please visit Krash Japan at http://www.krashjapan.com/