KINTSUGI: THE ART OF GOLDEN IMPERFECTION

Exposure to new cultures is an enlightening experience, and something all should strive for. In this series ‘Culture Shots’ we want to provide everyone the chance to learn something new from a culture they may not be familiar with. Small shots, easily digested, no chaser needed.

kintsugi (金継ぎ), or kintsukuroi (金繕い), literally golden (“kin”) and repair (“tsugi”).

Life is a complex series of highs and lows, successes mirrored with disappointments, happiness mirrored with pain. Failure is seen in a negative light, something we try to hide or forget. However, it is often failure which is the best educator, and pain the catalyst for growth. We should not be afraid or ashamed of our scars, as they serve as physical and mental reminders of the struggles we have overcome. 

“Sometimes our defects are our greatest virtues; sometimes there is beauty in the broken pieces”

The ever-eloquent Japanese have managed to capture this concept in their art form of Kintsugi. Translated as golden joinery, kintsugi is the centenary Japanese tradition of repairing broken ceramic pottery with precious metals, often gold or silver. Broken ceramic pieces are collected and joined together again; bonded with lacquer that was previously mixed with gold or silver dust. The cracks are enhanced as part of the design - the repair is left visible - and at the end of the process, the restored piece is more beautiful for having been broken.

Kintsugi Art

Kintsugis origins can be traced back to a Japanese legend from the 15th century. In the heat of the traditional tea ceremony, Ashikaga Yoshimasas (eighth shogun of the Ashikaga dynasty) favourite Chinese tea bowl broke to pieces. The shogun, who was extremely attached to this piece, sent it to China with high hopes, for it to be repaired. But on its return, Yoshimasa found out that the Chinese had simply stapled the bowl back together using coarse metal staples. Unhappy with the result, he called for craftsmen from all over the country, searching for a sustainable, durable, and most importantly, attractive solution…and so, kintsugi was born. 

Many Japanese customs extoll the virtue of patience, and kintsugi is no exception. After the forging process, the lacquer needs weeks to dry and harden into its final shape - the repair of large ceramic objects can take more than a month before the item can be used again. However, patience pays off, and the result is worth the wait. Like fire, vibrant gold lines spread across the item, re-forging lost bonds and recreating the piece anew. The irregular shape of the shattered pieces and the unique patterns formed by the lacquer ensure that each piece of Kintsugi art is one-of-a-kind and with a unique sense of purpose and identity. At the end of this process, the final product becomes far more valuable than the original.

Kintsugi Art

Dribbles of gold fill the cracks in the floor of this Kyoto apartment, designed by architecture studio TANK to replicate a traditional Japanese pottery technique.

Now, while we may not share Yoshimasas imperial powers, we do have something in common, and that is our love and admiration for kintsugi. Kintsugi is a life lesson: a philosophy that speaks of pain and hardships, of healing and strength. It is a powerful reflection of our human experiences and the struggles we face, to show how we are better with them by our side. We take strength from our imperfections and honour our journey, and like kintsugi, we become a symbol of history, resilience and beauty.

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places

by Carlota Pano