Literally meaning gold joinery, kintsugi is a traditional Japanese method of fixing broken lacquerware and pottery using gold (or silver) powder infused lacquer. The golden emphasizes and accentuates crack lines in the mended piece, as opposed to the more obvious tendency to try to hide such imperfections.
Because the cracks have become the highlight of the reassembled pottery. Kintsugi is regarded as an independent genre of pottery, an art form, rather than a simple repair method. The idea that a broken piece can derive new value and be more beautiful as a result of its flaws also works well as a metaphor, and in Japan Kintsugi is a held as a philosophy similar to others such as ikigai and wabi-sabi.
A brief history of Kintsugi
For all its popularity in contemporary lacquerware art today, Kintsugi likely evolved simply from the humble practice of repairing broken pottery with lacquer. The idea of infusing gold or silver powder must have occurred as a natural iterative next step to enhance repairs, somewhere during the 15th century in Japan.
A popular fable has it however, that Kintsugi’s creation can be attributed to the 15th century Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, who had in sent a damaged tea bowl to china for repairs. As is common of the time before kintsugi, and for Chinese craftsman, the tea bowl was repaired simply using ugly metal staples, much to the Shogun’s dissatisfaction. He ordered Japanese craftsmen to think up a more elegant solution – and the solution was Kintsugi.
Whether this legendary story is true or false, Kintsugi undoubtedly began around the 15th century, notably coinciding with the rise of tea ceremonies in Japan as drinking tea and admiring ceramic pieces became a popular past time throughout the country.
Lacquer based repairs henceforth became the standard method of lacquerware repairs, and Kintsugi pieces became more refined as artisans further mastered this craft.
Kintsugi as a way of life
Kintsugi pieces are valued because each kintsugi piece is unique.
Even if the reassembled piece was originally a mass produced article, it is now unique as a result of its cracks. No matter how one tries to reproduce the kintsugi piece, one will never get the exact same cracks again. It is unique precisely because of its particular flaws.
Same for humans. It is easy to feel down, dejected and depressed as a result of our failures. Having be broken, we feel like scraps that can never be put back together again. However, instead of letting ourselves go by giving up, why not try to put ourselves back together? Yes, we will never be same, and we will show cracks, but if there is anything to learn from kintsugi, it is that humans are also unique and therefore valuable because of our flaws and our shortcomings. Every experience in life is a crack that, initially seemingly unsightly, may actually be the most valuable lessons or experiences from which we can grow from.
Kintsugi only works because the cracks are deliberately magnified in gold.
Today, extremely strong and barely visible epoxies and other repair compounds exist – but none add value to the pottery the way kintsugi does. If the perfect repair is done and the pottery looks as good as new. That is well and good, but it is also no better than a brand new mass produced item.
Again, same for humans. With age comes experience. With failures comes wisdom. Instead of hankering for a clean slate, forever wishing to take back one’s old mistakes, grasping for something different, we should instead highlight ourselves, flaws and all in large bold gold letters and become more beautiful for it.
In doing so, by practicing the philosophy that kintsugi so perfectly encapsulates, we find that ourselves and our lives suffice and is innately wonderful.
Kintsugi is both an exquisite art form and a beautiful life philosophy. In both roles, it is a gift that Japanese artisans have master and given to the Japanese people and the world. We hope that reading this article, you will find the interest to learn more about the art of kintsugi and find out more about how kintsugi is made.