Kintsugi: The Traditional Japanese Craft and Its Important Message

  • When something is broken, do you immediately throw it away or do you mend it? When it comes to our favorite possessions, we probably repair the broken things and try to make it appear as if an accident never occurred. Many people will use glue, clay, or other molding products to make broken items look good as new.

    This situation is similar to the history of “Kintsugi,” a traditional Japanese craft that has been around for centuries. However, this form of art teaches people that broken things are not objects to hide but to display with pride. ‘Kin’ in Kintsugi means ‘gold’ as the broken pieces are mended together with gold.
    Find out about this fascinating craft and how it differs from other craft traditions!

    The History of Kintsugi

    Kintsugi has a long history which dates back to the 15th century by some accounts. One theory states that the Japanese shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the 8th shogun of Ashikaga shogunate, sent a damaged tea bowl back to China for repair. It was sent back with ugly metal staples. Since it didn’t look that good, the shogun thought of a better way to repair the broken thing. His craftsmen looked for an aesthetic way to put the pottery back together by using lacquer mixed with gold.

    This technique left a beautiful gold joint line that said so much about the objects history, displaying the scars instead of hiding them. This technique became rapidly popular. Many collectors felt so enamored by this new technique that they even purposefully smashed valuable pottery in order to repair it by using kintsugi! Ceramics became more exquisite after every repair.

    The Styles of Kintsugi

    Gluing back a broken pottery item highly depends on its condition. This is the reason why the technique took on many different styles. If all pieces of the ware are present, they can be simply glued back together with thin seams of gold. If part of the object was lost, it is important to replace it. This is done by filling the space with gold or urushi lacquer so that it takes the shape of the missing space.

    Urushi lacquer is sourced from Rhus Verniciflua, a deciduous tree which grows to around 15 meters. On the contrary, the empty space may also be filled by another object which fits perfectly. It is out in place with golden glue. Even today, it takes a long time to repair the largest and most refined pieces of ceramics. This makes the technique very precious.

    If you’d like to try repairing your own damaged pottery, you may do so with the help of a Kintsugi Repair Kit by the Meijiro Company. The kit ensures you that the repair will be durable and visually appealing. It will also allow you to value the skill and art form of kintsugi.

    Meijiro Company Kintsugi Website*Japanese Only

    Kintsugi is just one of the traditional techniques which have sparked people’s interest in the olden times. It allows people to create a truly unique form of art with every repair. Whenever an object breaks, its scar leaves a mark that becomes an important factor for the exhibit. There are actually many companies around the world which undertake kintsugi repairs professionally.

    Kintsugi sends a beautiful message to everyone in the world that we should never throw away broken objects. It also teaches people the essence of resilience. In a similar manner, whenever we encounter a negative or traumatic experience, we try our best to cope and stand strong as these experiences make us unique and precious.

    Here is a video of Japanese craftsman repairing pottery with kintsugi: