In Japan, there is a traditional technique called "Kintsugi" in which cracked or chipped vessels are revived by decorating them with gold powder and other materials. Calling the seams "scenery" and loving them is a uniquely Japanese aesthetic. What is its history and appeal of kintsugi?
What is Kintsugi?
Kintsugi is a traditional technique for repairing chipped, cracked or broken pieces of pottery. Although it is called kintsugi (=gold to tie), in reality, the cracked or chipped parts are joined with lacquer, and gold or silver powder is used only for finishing.
Lacquer here refers to the sap of deciduous “Urushi” tree, a tree of Urushi family. Urushiol, a component of lacquer, has the property of hardening when combined with moisture in the air, and once dry, it forms a tough coating that does not dissolve. In Japan, this lacquer has been used as a paint and adhesive since ancient times. Even today, with the existence of synthetic adhesives, there is no other material that is as safe and strong as lacquer.
Kintsugi is a traditional technique that has been developed by making use of the characteristics of lacquer. When lacquer is used to adhere items together, black traces of lacquer remain at the seams, so gold or silver powder is used to decorate them. Kintsugi is different from the Western style of repair, which is to cover up the broken part and make it less noticeable. Actually, kintsugi creates a new beauty by deliberately emphasizing the repaired part with gold. One of the real pleasures of kintsugi is to enjoy the "scenery" of the repaired area, which makes the object different from what it was before the damage.
History of Kintsugi
In Japan, lacquer has been used as an adhesive and paint since the Jomon period. Urushi lacquered wood products, bows, and earthenware that used lacquer as an adhesive have been excavated from the Shimotakabe Ruins in Higashimurayama City, Tokyo. However, decoration with metal powder was not yet practiced at this time.
There are many theories about the origin of kintsugi, but it is said to have originated in the Muromachi period (1336-1573) when the "tea ceremony" became popular. The tea ceremony, perfected by Sen no Rikyu, was a hobby of a very limited number of men with wealth and power, such as feudal lords, powerful families, and rich merchants of the time.
One of the most devoted to the tea ceremony was Nobunaga Oda, a great collector of tea utensils, and he used the tea ceremony for political purposes. Nobunaga forbade his vassals to hold tea ceremonies freely. He gave masterpieces of tea utensils and permission to hold tea ceremonies only to vassals who had made significant achievements in battle.
The feudal lords of the time longed to hold tea ceremonies using the tea utensils given to them by Nobunaga. Tea bowls used for tea ceremonies were very valuable and expensive, so they could not be thrown away just because they were broken. It is said that the culture of kintsugi was born from this background.
The old tea masters called the marks of kintsugi "flow of a rivers" and found beauty in the imperfections, and enjoyed admiring them. This is in line with the uniquely Japanese philosophy of "Wabi-Sabi".
The charm of Kintsugi
There are many cultures and techniques for repairing damaged pottery and porcelain around the world, but no one else has been able to breathe new life into damaged pieces and create completely new value. This is a sustainable culture created by the Japanese spirit of "mottainai," which means to care for and cherish things.
No matter how carefully you take care of something, it will break one day. However, that is not the end of the story when a piece is repaired with kintsugi. A kintsugi vessel is a unique piece of art. You will feel as if you have found your own treasure. That is the charm of kintsugi.
The technique of kintsugi was born in order to cherish and use things for a long time. It reflects the "mottainai" spirit of the Japanese people, who love and cherish things. By applying beautiful gold lines to the cracks, the vessel is reborn with a new charm that can only be found in one place in the world. In this day and age, when we are overwhelmed with so many things, why not experience the Japanese spirit of kintsugi?