reading today… ‘the art of Kintsukuroi’ repair with gold

by Venetia Kapernekas

A beautiful sunny morning in Munich and finding a beautiful image waiting in my iPhone (sent by my lovely daughter);  a teacup with golden lines and a text .. ‘understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken’

Kintsukuroi (Japanese: golden repair)or kintsugi (golden joinery) is the Japanese art repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum; treating breakage and repair as part of the history of an object.


(left) SAKE SAUCER (sakazuki), “Bamboo grove crane” (poetic name), 16th century, Shino ware, H.: 1 1/8 in. (2.8 cm), D.: 4 1/2 in. (11.3 cm). From the colle ion of the calligrapher Hisada Kakunan (b.1921)
(right) TEABOWL (chawan), 16th century, Karatsu ware, H.: 2 5/8 in. (6.8 cm), D.: 4 in. (10.2 cm). From the colle ion of Kokubun-ji temple in (former) Owari Province

As a philosophy kintsugi can be seen to have similarities to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, an embracing of the flawed or imperfect. Japanese æsthetics values marks of wear by the use of an object. This can be seen as a rationale for keeping an object around even after it has broken and as a justification of kintsugi itself, highlighting the cracks and repairs as simply an event in the life of an object rather than allowing its service to end at the time of its damage or breakage.

Kintsugi can relate to the Japanese philosophy of “no mind” (mushin) which encompasses the concepts of non-attachment, acceptance of change and fate as aspects of human life.


TEABOWL (chawan), 16th century, Karatsu ware, H.: 2 3/8 in. (6.0 cm), D.: 7 1/4 in. (18.5 cm)

“Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated… a kind of physical expression of the spirit of mushin….Mushin is often literally translated as “no mind,” but carries connotations of fully existing within the moment, of non-attachment, of equanimity amid changing conditions. …The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject. This poignancy or aesthetic of existence has been known in Japan as mono no aware, a compassionate sensitivity, or perhaps identification with, [things] outside oneself…the notion of rupture returns but with regard to immaterial qualities, the passage of time with relation to states of being. A mirage of “before” suffuses the beauty of mended objects. ” (Christy Bartlett, A Tearoom of Mended Ceramics, in the Aesthetics of Mended Ceramics, FlickWerk)

…..From aesthetic, technical and artistic viewpoints, the restoration of ceramics with lacquer, which has been practiced in Japan for many centuries and which has been particularly cultivated since the sixteenth century, is a highly distinctive  and extremely fascinating field of Japanese art……As collective terms for all kinds of objects  that have been restored with lacquer, the Japanese language contains the two words urushitsugi (“to patch with lacquer”) and ursuhitsukuroi (“to repair with lacquer ”), both of which have been in the language since the sixteenth century, as well as the word urushinaoshi, which denotes “lacquer repair”. (Charlie Iten, Ceramics Mended with Laquer)

David Pike, an American kintsugi expert living in Japan, claims that the theory of the “[kintsugi] process is deceptively simple: mix lacquer with a binding medium–rice or flour–and use it to stick the (ceramic) pieces back together. Then finish the break line with a metal highlight.”


An example of kintsugi repair by David Pike. (Photo courtesy of David Pike)

The fable of Kintsukuroi,………

Once upon a time, in the far, far east, east even of Eden, lived a great emperor, in a great palace, gorgeously stocked with the richest of goods. It was early spring, and the season of royal visits, when kings and princes called on one another and admired each others’ choicest possessions, gave wonderful gifts and enjoyed bountiful banquets. And this year was special, because the visitors would see the investiture of his beloved son Kintsukuroi as Crown Prince of the empire.

The emperor was excited this year because he had a new and beautiful bowl to show to his friends, specially made for him by the finest of craftsmen from the finest of materials. Imagine then his horror when on going to his cabinet he discovered that it was broken apart, into a hundred pieces. How could it have happened? No-one knew. What could be done about it before the first visitors arrived? No-one could offer any idea, for the time was too short to start again and make another more…


TEA CONTAINER (chaire), 18th century, Karatsu ware, H.: 2 3/4 in. (6.8 cm), D.: 2 3/8 in. (6.1 cm), Museum für Lackkunst, Münster, Germany