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Art of Making Broken Things Beautiful With Kintsugi

Kintsugi (or “patching with gold”) is a traditional Japanese technique that involves mending broken cups and plates using lacquer and decorating the mended objects with gold and silver.

1. Origins:

In Japan, lacquer repairs have been used since the Jōmon period (before the fourth century B.C.). The technique then flourished into the art form of Kintsugi in the Muromachi period (14–15th centuries), at the same time as the Japanese tea ceremony was developing.

One theory is that Kintsugi may have originated when Japanese Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent a damaged Chinese tea bowl back to China for repairs in the late 15th century. When it was returned, repaired with ugly metal staples, it may have prompted Japanese craftsmen to look for a more aesthetic means of repair. Collectors became so enamored of the new art that some were accused of deliberately smashing valuable pottery so it could be repaired with the gold seams of Kintsugi.

The marks of repair left by Kintsugi are called Keshiki (“scenery”); by highlighting the beauty of the new form that appears only after repair, Kintsugi added value to the pottery.

2. Cultural values:

This art form is seen to many as a metaphor for brokenness and healing—that embracing one’s brokenness and imperfections can create something unique, beautiful and strong. Relating to human lives, it’s all about healing our emotional wounds and rebuilding our lives, becoming stronger in the process. 

3. Methods:

Fragments of a dropped ceramic bowl are scooped up and put back together; mended using lacquer dusted with powdered gold that leaves the repair visible. The revitalized ceramic becomes a symbol of fragility, strength and beauty.

4. Types of joinery:

There are a few major styles or types of Kintsugi:

a. Crack (ひび): the use of gold dust and resin or lacquer to attach broken pieces with minimal overlap or fill-in from missing pieces.

b. Piece method (欠けの金継ぎ例): where a replacement ceramic fragment is not available and the entirety of the addition is gold or gold/lacquer compound.

c. Joint call (呼び継ぎ): where a similarly shaped but non-matching fragment is used to replace a missing piece from the original vessel creating a patchwork effect.

The beauty of healing depends on how we perform it and the attitude we accept. You can choose to heal your way, each person will have a different way of healing, but each way will give you a perfect and different product.