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Kintsugi pottery

Kintsugi: The Japanese Art of Repairing Broken Pottery

Kintsugi (金継ぎ) or ‘golden joinery’, is the art of mending broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. Another term for the art is kintsukuroi (金繕い) or “golden repair’. The art as a philosophy treats breakage and repair as a part of the history of an object rather than something to disguise the damage.

Kintsugi artFoundations of kintsugi

Lacquerware is made by coating and recoating materials like bamboo and wood with the sap of the lacquer tree, a tall deciduous tree in the cashew family. Lacquer is the material of a traditional Japanese craft that is centuries old. Lacquer is known to have as much protective strength as paint, and when made properly is resistant to alkali, acid, and friction. It is lightweight and durable, and lacquering is a favorite technique for coating most Japanese everyday things.  The process of kintsugi may have been combined with maki-e or ‘sprinkled picture’, a Japanese lacquer decoration technique using metal powder such as gold or silver sprinkled and fixed on the surface of the lacquerware.

Kintsugi goldKintsugi is said to have originated when shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent a broken Chinese tea bowl back to China to be repaired sometime in the late 15th century. When the tea bowl was returned, it was repaired with unsightly metal staples. This may have incited Japanese craftsmen to search for a more aesthetically pleasing means to repair things.

Philosophy of kintsugi 

The philosophy of kintsugi is said to be similar to the philosophy of wabi-sabi, embracing the flawed or imperfect.  Wabi sabi  (侘寂) represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience. It is sometimes described as authentic beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.”Kintsugi

Japanese aesthetics highly values signs of use from an object. It is seen as a rational for keeping an object around even after it has broken. It is also seen as a justification for kintsugi which highlights the cracks and repairs as events in the life of an object rather than throwing it away just because it is broken.

The Japanese philosophy of mushin (無心) or “no mind”, encompasses the concepts of acceptance of change, not being attached to anything and of fate as part of life. Kintsugi makes no attempt to hide the damage on the objects but rather the flaws are highlighted.

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