How Japanese Kintsugi Masters Restore Pottery by Beautifying the Cracks

A few years ago, we fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture the Japan­ese art of kintsu­gi, whose prac­ti­tion­ers repair bro­ken pot­tery with gold in a man­ner that empha­sizes rather than hides the cracks. Since then, the idea seems to have cap­tured the West­ern imag­i­na­tion, inspir­ing no few online inves­ti­ga­tions but also books with titles like Kintsu­gi Well­ness: The Japan­ese Art of Nour­ish­ing Mind, Body, and Spir­it, and Kintsu­gi: Embrace Your Imper­fec­tions and Find Hap­pi­ness — the Japan­ese Way. But as kintsug­ist Yuki Matano reminds us, “kintsu­gi is most­ly seen as a refined repair­ing tech­nique in Japan. Japan­ese peo­ple do not usu­al­ly asso­ciate kintsu­gi with art ther­a­py or men­tal health.”

To get back to the essence of kintsu­gi, and gain a clear­er under­stand­ing of its labo­ri­ous phys­i­cal nature, it could­n’t hurt to watch a few kintsug­ists at work. Take Hiro­ki Kiyokawa, who reflects on his 45 years prac­tic­ing the art in Kyoto — not with­out express­ing his own ideas about how he feels he’s also “restor­ing the bro­ken parts of myself” — in the BBC video above.

Or, for a more mod­ern pre­sen­ta­tion, have a look at this tuto­r­i­al video from Chima­ha­ga, a kintsug­ist who not long ago launched his own Youtube chan­nel ded­i­cat­ed to explain­ing what he does. He’s even uploaded videos about not just kintsu­gi, (金継ぎ, or “gold­en join­ery”), but also gintsu­gi (銀継ぎ), which achieves a dif­fer­ent but equal­ly strik­ing effect using sil­ver instead of gold.

Kintsu­gi clear­ly isn’t a hob­by you can mas­ter over a few week­ends. But you don’t have to be a life­long Kyoto arti­san to ben­e­fit from learn­ing it, as empha­sized by psy­chol­o­gist Alexa Alt­man in the video just above. Hav­ing learned kintsu­gi in Japan, she prac­tices it here in a some­what uncon­ven­tion­al way, repair­ing not pot­tery dam­aged over time or by acci­dent, but pot­tery which she’s smashed on pur­pose. The bowl, in this case, rep­re­sents “some aspect of your­self”; the ham­mer is “an instru­ment of change”; the glue is “all about con­nec­tion”; the holes and cracks “can be rep­re­sen­ta­tions of loss”; the gold is “glo­ry, a cel­e­bra­tion.” Whether or not you accept these metaphors, those who prac­tice kintsu­gi — or any craft demand­ing such a degree of patience and con­cen­tra­tion — sure­ly improve their psy­cho­log­i­cal state in so doing.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

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

A Brief His­to­ry of Japan­ese Art: From Pre­his­toric Pot­tery to Yay­oi Kusama in Half an Hour

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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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