Photo/IllutrationMasahiro Kawabe creates rings from stainless steel nuts like the one in the right corner of the photo. (Kunio Ozawa)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

KURASHIKI, Okayama Prefecture--Nuts about nuts is the only way to describe Masahiro Kawabe.

He is, after all, the only artisan in Japan to specialize in fashioning rings from stainless steel nuts, a hardware component more commonly associated with bolting things together.

Through persistent grinding and polishing, Kawabe, 41, creates beautiful accessories, some of which are now on display at the Washuzan Visitor Center here.

Kawabe was born and raised in the seaside district of Obatake at the foot of Mount Washuzan, the summit of which offers fine views of the Seto Ohashi bridge, a masterpiece of double deck bridge engineering that connects Okayama and Kagawa prefectures.

The display of Kawabe's works reflects his hopes of adding color to festivities marking the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Seto Ohashi bridge.

The exhibition is intended to showcase cultural exchanges in the Seto Inland Sea and surrounding areas.

Kawabe runs a “workshop” that was established by his grandmother.

While working as a mechanic in the city’s Mizushima district in his early 20s, he noticed that some older colleagues sported handmade nut rings on their fingers. Captivated by the primitive beauty of the "art," Kawabe tried his hand at making nut rings for a living. He was 23 years old.

Kawabe uses iron files to grind the surface of each nut to create the design he wants, and sandpaper to polish. He repeats the process day in, day out.

The more he polishes, the more the rings shine and become corrosion-resistant. The material cost is low as no precious metals are involved.

His nut rings have gained a reputation for excellence through word of mouth and online. On occasion, customers visit his workshop to place orders.

As a child, Kawabe could see the Seto Inland Sea through the windows of the elementary and junior high schools he attended. He recalled watching the Seto Ohashi bridge being built and still remembers its girders being erected one after another as if they were approaching from the island of Shikoku across the sea.

Even today, Kawabe likes to visit Mount Washuzan to scout for design ideas.

“What I see and feel can be a source of inspiration for my designs,” Kawabe said. “This is my spiritual place.”

The exhibition showcases about 40 works created over the past five years. One display features nut rings arranged in a row, to suggest the majesty of the Seto Ohashi bridge.

Artist friends living in the Shikoku region also helped out. The nut-shaped platforms for ring cones were made by Takamatsu-based woodwork artist Keiichi Doi. Images of Kawabe working in his studio were taken by Shinya Yoshida, a photographer from Matsuyama.

Local excitement over the festivities can't disguise the growing number of homes that stand empty in his hometown, nor the population of elderly residents.

Through his work, Kawabe hopes to help revitalize local communities.

“When I started out, all I thought about was making rings," he said. "But I am only able to continue doing it because of support from the local people and communities. From now on, I want my work to contribute as an essence of the communities.”

The Washuzan Visitor Center is located about eight minutes on foot from the second Washuzan observatory. The venue is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The exhibition runs until May 31. Admission is free.