Master of Metal



Yutaka Kawano is a Takumi Master, a master craftsman fluent in creating art through form. An expert in manipulating metal, his work is symbolic of the design and craft skills that can be seen on all Mazda vehicles rolling off the production line. Mazda Stories touches down in Hiroshima to take a closer look at his work.

It’s a hot, humid morning in Hiroshima, Japan. Throughout the city, commuters scramble to catch trains, children cycle to school and coffee shops churn out morning pick-me-ups. Yutaka Kawano, Senior Specialist at the Design Modelling Studio, however, is readying his set of dozens of hammers and wooden mallets and countless razor-sharp sheet metal scissors atop his workbench. As generators buzz and click into life behind him, Kawano is ready for another day at work.

“(Kawano) could easily be the personification of Mazda’s human-centric approach to design.”

His base of operations is Mazda’s comparatively cooler Design Modelling Studio, where the Takumi Master has begun hammering and bowing a wafer-thin piece of sheet metal. He’s manipulating the shimmering material to create a unique, one-of-a-kind piece of art that is strikingly like the designs that can be seen throughout Mazda vehicles rolling off the production line. Working on just one of 11 total pieces that will fuse into a singular object, Kawano is creating a Rashin sculpture with hammers, tongs, and vices. The finished product will resemble a smooth, seamless, and gleaming piece of art that draws parallels with Mazda’s current designs, but also points towards future design ideals in vehicles to come.

“Mazda designers go directly to Kawano’s place to pick his mind and gain inspiration for concept car designs that shape Mazda’s future ranges.”

A virtuoso in every sense, Kawano seems at home in the workshop amongst worn tools, belt saws and blowtorch masks. Surrounded by designs and works in progress, he could easily be the personification of Mazda’s human-centric approach to design. That’s because, while the Takumi Master’s unique work wouldn’t look out of place in a contemporary design museum or an upmarket art gallery, the real-world implications of his work are both more practical and wider reaching. Indeed, it’s been told that Mazda designers go directly to Kawano’s place to pick his mind and gain inspiration for concept car designs that shape Mazda’s future ranges. Likewise, his sheet metal artwork has a direct connection to the vehicles being manufactured only hundreds of metres away from the workshop: the glossy metal that can be seen throughout his studio has been used as inspiration for Mazda’s chrome interior trims and the vehicle’s overall form, in models including the Mazda3.

These results, however, aren’t just about improving physical appearance. Kawano’s work often invokes emotions, including happiness and contentment, from the viewer. Whether it’s intentional or not, it’s his conviction to the craft that can take these perceptions to new heights. “If people look at my work and they feel happy about it, then I’m also happy,” he says, smiling.

To make his work, Kawano has had to craft his own custom-made equipment and make special modifications to off-the-shelf tools. His hammers, vice attachments and bespoke anvils are all tweaked and contoured for a direct, specific use and make for marvels of their own. His wrist guards, too, are made from tapered denim to protect his wrists. As he demonstrates, Kawano can also use the cracks found in the base of a timeworn tree trunk as leverage to shape copperware. It’s all part of an ongoing mission to better both himself and, as a direct result, to push Mazda’s design strategy into the future. It’s all through monotsukuri, a term used to cover immaculate product planning, design, development, and production. “I still think there are areas [of my work] which I need to improve because I don’t think it’s enough,” he says. “I have to really keep improving myself and devote myself to a higher level.”

“Something created by human hands is very important.

It shouldn’t be lost.”

yutaka Kawano

“Something created by human hands is very important.
It shouldn’t be lost.”


From an outside perspective, it seems Kawano has already made it to this higher plane of design and influence within Mazda. Ever since he started metalwork at 18-years-old, Kawano has worked across a multitude of disciplines within Mazda. He started off training for the National Skills Competition and followed this with a stint in body production, before moving on to Mazda’s design division. This is where he would hone his craft for almost four decades, not only on metalwork but also painting and sewing. These days, his role is to bring designers’ ideas formed in clay or digital to life, utilising various materials such as metal, resin, and leather to create models and artwork with further expression and precision. He also collaborates with the younger generation of designers and artists in creation of artworks and model samples, passing on his unique knowledge of metalwork and his deep, rooted understanding of Mazda’s design philosophy. “I’m working with them directly,” he says, “I give them advice and I learn from them as well. We’re working and growing together, doing real work.”

Using 11 individual pieces of metal, Kawano can create a beautiful Rashin sculpture

Now 60-years-old, Kawano’s tenure at Mazda has seen him become an unfaltering example of Japanese heritage and unique skill that works in-tandem with digitisation. What’s more, his career goes beyond Mazda. Kawano was tasked with crafting a copper frame for the eternal flame of Daishoin Temple in Miyajima and, working with other Hiroshima-based companies, was inspired by the legacy of manufacturing in the city. Inevitably, his enduring design has captivated viewers ever since its inception. “If you can see something which is created by hand, it gives you warmth,” he finishes. “Something created by human hands is very important. It shouldn’t be lost.”

Examples of Kawano’s influence can be seen in details including chrome interior trims and the vehicle’s overall form

Words Ed Cooper / Images Irwin Wong

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