What happens when your best china hits the floor, bursting into a thousand pieces? What a mist of sorrow, anger and regret, when thinking that the shattered pieces cannot be put back together. Yet there is an option, a Japanese practice known as kintsugi, meaning “golden seams” (or kintsukuroi, “golden repair”), a lavish technique for repairing ceramics. It uses lacquer and gold pigments to put broken pieces back together, leaving the repair visible and then unique.
Kintsugi is a craft and a modern philosophy at the same time: it invites us to look at the whole of life celebrating it as the way it is, including the rough edges. It teaches us to appreciate our imperfections and wearing scars as flags of uniqueness allowing the peculiar gold inlay, caused by damage and challenges faced in life, to glow. Unexpectedly heartbreak or grief can be welded together with strength and beauty. Through embracing, rather than concealing our wounds and fragility, we can rebuild our lives, celebrating both the positive and negative parts.
Ceramics are fragile, strong and beautiful all at once, just like people- says the psychologist, Tomás Navarro, in his book Kintsugi: Embrace Your Imperfections and Find Happiness – The Japanese Way (Yellow Kite)-. Ceramics and life can break apart, but not for that reason should we stop living intensely. The first step to living a kintsugi life is to not be scared of taking risks and getting damaged. Do not try to live a pleasant life without suffering, because if you do you will be resigning yourself to surviving instead of living intensely.
Kintsugi shows you how happiness can be found again, often against all odds. A painful experience can, in fact, make you a more determined individual, ready to face the world with optimism. Psychologist Tomás Navarro believes that we should approach our lives with the same philosophy. “Everyone faces suffering, but it is the way in which we overcome our troubles, and heal our emotional wounds, that is key. We shouldn’t conceal our repairs, they are proof of our strength”.
Delving into the background
According to legend, the art of kintsugi was invented in the 15th century when shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa broke his favourite Chinese tea bowl and sent it back to China to be repaired. Once the cup returned to him, he didn’t like the unsightly metal staples the potter used to fix the pieces, so he asked the Japanese craftsmen to solve the problem. They were able to transform it into a jewel filling its cracks with gold lacquer repairs. Kintsugi was born, and it is still going strong. It is adopted by many contemporary artists, as the Korean sculptor Yeesookyung, and the British artist Paul Scott who likes combining different pieces of ceramics. This technique perfectly represents the Japanese aesthetic value of ‘wabi-sabi’, or the acceptance of imperfection as part of beauty, which has its origins in Buddhist philosophy. Celebrating the beauty of brokenness, Kintsugi not only produces unique pottery but is powerfully symbolic.
Where to learn Kinstugi
Online you can find plenty of tutorials and books. If you want to attend a class, here are our suggestions:
- Mizuyo Yamashita (London, UK) – One to two days workshops in English, to book online.
- Zedo (New York City) – Traditional kintsugi repair and classes by Gen Saratani. For those wishing to learn the traditional technique.
- Kintsugi Australia (Sydney and Artarmon, Australia) – Jun offers workshops where you can learn the traditional kintsugi techniques using either artificial gold or real gold.
- Kintsugi by Dave Pike (Nara, Japan) – Workshops and video tutorials in English, discussion forum, kintsugi supplies.