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The Art of Kintsugi

Updated: Sep 25, 2021

One of Japan’s oldest and rarest crafts, kintsugi repairs broken pottery using gold to make it more beautiful than before.

Kintsugi literally means golden joinery; cracks and breaks are glued together before lacquer and gold powder is added. The result is an impressively unique item that is both functional and decorative.

In recent years the ancient art, which dates from the 14th century, has seen somewhat of a resurgence, pushing it into the global spotlight. Kintsugi pottery and kintsugi art have been shown in renowned facilities including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In Japan, kintsugi artisans are enjoying the rise in popularity. There is a growing number offering demonstrations or hands-on experiences, allowing you to get a close-up look at skilled craftspeople at work or even take your own creation home.

Kintsugi’s philosophy

It is said that there are three main philosophies behind kintsugi, each offering insight into aspects of Japanese culture.

First is the idea that every object should get a second chance as breakage is part of the history of every object. Damage and repairs, therefore, should be cherished rather than disguised. Second is the idea that beauty is flawed, which is akin to wabi sabi, the philosophy that sees beauty in things that are imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. What may be perceived as defects can actually be beautiful. Moreover, some artisans say that using gold to repair faults is symbolic that people can overcome hardships and be reborn. Third is the idea that nothing should be wasted.

Trying a kintsugi experience

Artisan Taku Nakano is founder and ceramic artist at Saideigawa Pottery Studio in Omotesando, an upscale shopping hub in Tokyo. He fuses the classic and contemporary in his pieces, many of which form an impressive display in his studio.

Nakano offers a 90-minute introduction to kintsugi and guidance throughout the seven-step process, so you can make your own piece of art.

First, choose a broken piece of pottery from the Edo period (1603–1868) or modern times and outline the cracks with a marker to make them easier to see. Next, click the item together using sight, sound (give it a tap) and feel, and add tape to hold it in place. After applying glue to the cracks, remove any residue with a scalpel and rubbing alcohol before tapping gold powder into the cracks. After a few minutes, the surface will be dry; brush off any excess powder and wipe the pottery clean.

The kintsugi experience is fun, full proof and easy to follow. To allow participants to take home a completed product after the session, Nakano uses quick-drying lacquer, preventing the kintsugi items from being used for food or drink.

Find out more

For details on the Saideigawa Pottery Studio experience, visit their page.

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