Kintsugi: The Centuries-Old Japanese Craft of Repairing Pottery with Gold & Finding Beauty in Broken Things

We all grow up believ­ing we should empha­size the inher­ent pos­i­tives about our­selves. But what if we also empha­sized the neg­a­tives, the parts we’ve had to work to fix or improve? If we did it just right, would the neg­a­tives still look so neg­a­tive after all? These kinds of ques­tions come to mind when one pon­ders the tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese craft of kintsu­gi, a means of repair­ing bro­ken pot­tery that aims not for per­fec­tion, a return to “as good as new,” but for a kind of post-break­age rein­ven­tion that dares not to hide the cracks.

“Trans­lat­ed to ‘gold­en join­ery,’ Kintsu­gi (or Kintsukuroi, which means ‘gold­en repair’) is the cen­turies-old Japan­ese art of fix­ing bro­ken pot­tery with a spe­cial lac­quer dust­ed with pow­dered gold, sil­ver, or plat­inum” says My Mod­ern Met.

“Beau­ti­ful seams of gold glint in the cracks of ceram­ic ware, giv­ing a unique appear­ance to the piece. This repair method cel­e­brates each arti­fac­t’s unique his­to­ry by empha­siz­ing its frac­tures and breaks instead of hid­ing or dis­guis­ing them. Kintsu­gi often makes the repaired piece even more beau­ti­ful than the orig­i­nal, revi­tal­iz­ing it with new life.”

Kintsu­gi orig­i­nates, so one the­o­ry has it, in the late 15th cen­tu­ry under the cul­tur­al­ly inclined shogun Ashik­a­ga Yoshi­masa, dur­ing whose reign the sen­si­bil­i­ties of tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese art as we known them emerged. When Ashik­a­ga sent one of his dam­aged Chi­nese tea bowls back to his moth­er­land for repairs, it came back reassem­bled with ungain­ly met­al sta­ples. This prompt­ed his crafts­men to find a bet­ter way: why not use that gild­ed lac­quer to empha­size the cracks instead of hid­ing them? The tech­nique was said to have won the admi­ra­tion of famed (and not eas­i­ly impressed) tea mas­ter Sen no Rikyū, major pro­po­nent of the imper­fec­tion-appre­ci­at­ing aes­thet­ic wabi sabi.

You can hear and see these sto­ries of kintsug­i’s ori­gins in the videos from Nerd­writer and Alain de Bot­ton’s School of Life at the top of the post. The clip just above offers a clos­er look at the painstak­ing tech­niques of mod­ern kintsu­gi, which not only sur­vives but thrives today, hav­ing expand­ed to include oth­er mate­ri­als, repair­ing glass­ware as well as ceram­ics, for exam­ple, or fill­ing the cracks with sil­ver instead of gold. And what could under­score the cur­rent glob­al rel­e­vance of kintsu­gi more than the fact that the craft has inspired not one but two TEDTalks, the first by Audrey Har­ris in Kyoto in 2015 and the sec­ond by Mad­die Kel­ly in Ade­laide last year. We all, it seems, want to repair our cracks; kintsu­gi shows the way to do it not just hon­est­ly but art­ful­ly.

h/t the nugget

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Wabi-Sabi: A Short Film on the Beau­ty of Tra­di­tion­al Japan

20 Mes­mer­iz­ing Videos of Japan­ese Arti­sans Cre­at­ing Tra­di­tion­al Hand­i­crafts

The Mak­ing of Japan­ese Hand­made Paper: A Short Film Doc­u­ments an 800-Year-Old Tra­di­tion

Watch a Japan­ese Crafts­man Lov­ing­ly Bring a Tat­tered Old Book Back to Near Mint Con­di­tion

The Art of Col­lo­type: See a Near Extinct Print­ing Tech­nique, as Lov­ing­ly Prac­ticed by a Japan­ese Mas­ter Crafts­man

Watch Japan­ese Wood­work­ing Mas­ters Cre­ate Ele­gant & Elab­o­rate Geo­met­ric Pat­terns with Wood

Japan­ese Crafts­man Spends His Life Try­ing to Recre­ate a Thou­sand-Year-Old Sword

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Taylor B says:

    Great infor­ma­tion­al arti­cle! I’m in love with kintsu­gi and attempt­ed to make my own over the course of this hol­i­day sea­son. I have the instruc­tions here if any­one wants to extend their love of the phi­los­o­phy to the act of cre­at­ing their own! (

  • Dana says:

    I an cap­ti­vat­ed by tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese sen­si­bil­i­ties. I have prac­ticed bon­sai for more than 17 years.

    I love suise­ki, ike­bana, and now kintsu­gi. I’m also crazy about ashitani fur­ni­ture and wood join­ery.

    I’m a trades­man by pro­fes­sion. Can’t get enough of Japan­ese wood join­ery.

    Thanks for the arti­cle and video. I’m new to but I think I’m hooked now.

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