Kintsugi: The Japanese Art of Repair

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Kintsugi is an ancient Japanese technique of preparing precious ceramics using gold. Porcelain is valuable, in part, because it is fragile. It is delicate and thus weak. The Japanese have appreciated porcelain for centuries and, although they have surely been careful, tea pots have been broken. 

What does one do when a prized possession is broken. One can replace or repair it. Kintsugi is repairing ceramics raised to an art form and a philosophy. 

It all started when an old emperor dropped his favorite tea bowl and ordered it repaired. It was quickly returned to him with put back together with ugly iron clamps and the beauty of the porcelain was gone. The bowl was then sent to Japanese artisans who wanted to make the bowl beautiful again. They realised they could not restore the bowl identically to its unbroken state, so they decided to repair it beautifully. 

The Japanese artisans made a mixture of lacquer and gold dust and carefully applied it to the edge of each broken piece of porcelain. 

Finally the bowl was beautiful again, with lines of gold across it like rivers running through the landscape.

Today so much is produced, but very little is cherished, broken, repaired and kept. When we are offered something very cheaply it is tempting, but most often it is a false friend. Because we might be able to purchase something cheaply, but often we cannot cherish it. Luxury is what is worth repairing, but what makes something worth repairing? Craftsmanship and timeless style.

A good craftsman will be able to understand how a quality object was made, how it worked and how it broke, and thus how to repair it. Industrial products are not made to be repaired and uses techniques which makes it impossible.

Timeless style is important for luxury as if something has a fleeting fashionable style it will be discarded even before it breaks. It is only worth the effort of repair if it will be beautiful for a long time. 

This is why a slower fashion system is returning as a protest against fast fashion. All over the world passionate people and artisans are working together to make products they are proud of. Making them in the right way. Enjoying their work.

A quality pair of shoes is the opposite of fast fashion. When the leather fades, you polish it and it becomes alive again with a patina even more beautiful than before. When you have worn down the soles of your shoes, your cobbler can replace the leather and they will continue to fit you better and better every day. 

Timeless design and craftsmanship is worth repairing, but there is one more reason why you should. When you take care of something you cherish it more. 

A study on parenting showed that the more a parent takes care of a child, the stronger the bond between them will become. It is the same effect, to a lesser degree, with someones favorite chair or a set of inherited silver cutlery that has been polished for generations. It is lovely taking care and cherishing what is around you.

The Japanese artisans looked at Kintsugi not only as an art form but also thought about the philosophy behind. It shows the power craftsmanship can have on our lives.

When we break and our life seems to be shattered in pieces, we should not hide our imperfections. We should take time to mend our wounds carefully and then move forward, without hiding what we have been through.

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  • I have lived in a tiny Belgian village in the province of Luxembourg for 27yrs. My neighbour has à workshop for restoration and has now started this Japanese technique. I am extremely clumsy. So after breaking two beautiful Royal Albert cups I look forward to restoring them in the Kintsugi way in a celebration of my mal à droite. Her courses begin in August 21. Her and her daughter are quite amazing

    Carmel McParland on

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