banner Unlocking New Value Through Kintsugi The Art of Repairing and Renewing Broken Items


Unlocking New Value Through Kintsugi The Art of Repairing and Renewing Broken Items


Kintsugi Artwork

Unlocking New Value Through Kintsugi Artwork: "Dripping Gold Drops" on a Blue and White Flower Vase, Restored by Kiyokawa Hiroki (Photo courtesy of Heiando Kyoto)

In recent times, there has been a resurging interest in the ancient Japanese art of kintsugi, a technique used for mending fractured ceramics. This resurgence can be attributed to a growing global focus on sustainability, encouraging individuals to cherish and extend the life of their possessions. However, it's not just the sustainability aspect that draws people in; the exquisite beauty born from the use of urushi lacquer and powdered gold is equally captivating. Let's delve into the world of kintsugi, exploring its origins and its contemporary appeal in Japan.

Kintsugi's Historical Roots

Kintsugi is believed to have originated during the Muromachi period (1336–1573) in Japan, coinciding with the rise of the traditional cha-no-yu tea ceremony, known for its ceremonial serving of matcha green tea. In this tea ceremony, the vessels used held great significance, and their craftsmanship and design continually evolved. During this era, ceramics were considered precious and exclusive, reserved mainly for the elite. Consequently, there arose a need for a method to restore expensive chipped or broken chawan tea bowls.

The concept of ceramic repair was introduced to Japan through the kasugaidome technique, which involved binding broken fragments together with sturdy metal staples. However, this approach fell short of achieving the desired aesthetic quality. In the pursuit of a more visually pleasing restoration method, the kintsugi technique was born, with tea ceremony aficionados embracing the unique patterns that emerged from past damage. Remarkably, some of the chawan tea bowls repaired using kintsugi during this period have endured to this day as well-preserved artifacts.

Kasugaidome Artwork: Bowl with a Foliate Rim, Named "Bakōhan," an Important Cultural Property of Japan, Tokyo National Museum (Source: ColBase)


Kintsugi in the Modern Age

The traditional kintsugi technique, evolving from the Muromachi period and reaching its zenith during the Edo period (1603–1868), relies solely on natural materials native to Japan: urushi lacquer, rice powder, and mountain soil. The remarkable endurance of items repaired over two centuries ago attests to the longevity of these natural materials.

For an extended period, kintsugi was applied exclusively to high-value tea ceremony equipment. Ordinary people mended their belongings using yakitsugi, a technique fusing pieces together with lead glass. However, in the 2000s, kintsugi, previously passed down through generations as a specialized craft, began to democratize, thanks to beginner-friendly guides and a newfound appreciation for traditional Japanese craftsmanship. Additionally, the age of mass consumption brought renewed attention to environmental stewardship and item longevity, aligning perfectly with kintsugi's ethos of imbuing new worth into damaged objects.

Some enthusiasts have even expanded the application of kintsugi beyond pottery to include glass items, further broadening its reach and fostering a deeper appreciation for this art.


Accessible for Beginners

Historically, kintsugi was exclusively performed by urushi artisans due to its reliance on urushi lacquer, derived from the sap of the urushi tree. Although various methods of kintsugi exist, the fundamental process remains consistent: reattaching broken pieces using urushi lacquer, filling cracks or chips with a putty made of urushi lacquer mixed with sawdust or powdered stone, and finishing with a dusting of gold powder. Today, kintsugi sets comprising essential tools and materials are readily available, complemented by instructional videos that facilitate individuals in trying their hand at this art.

Kintsugi demands patience, as the urushi lacquer requires ample drying time, often extending to two months for the completion of a piece. For those seeking quicker results, a simpler alternative involves employing water-resistant craft glue, suitable for tableware, with acrylic ceramic paint applied over the mend. This approach offers a rapid and accessible means to achieve a kintsugi-inspired repair.

The proliferation of accessible options for embracing kintsugi at home has undeniably contributed to its widespread popularity. In our daily lives, accidents leading to broken items are inevitable. Kintsugi, with its ability to create fresh beauty from imperfection while promoting sustainability, is a practice that merits passing on to future generations."

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