Jan 28, 2019 15:31:05

Imperfections repaired with gold: Kintsugi

by @jasonleow | 482 words | 110πŸ”₯ | 110πŸ’Œ

Jason Leow

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Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold. It's also a beautiful, poetic analogy for how we can see our imperfections.


I'd recently been deeply fascinated with kintsugi, a Japanese art of repairing broken bowls. Kintsugi (ι‡‘ηΆ™γŽ), or kintsukuroi (金繕い), literally means golden (β€œkin”) and repair (β€œtsugi”). Also often called golden joinery. Broken crockery like bowls, cups and plates are joined back together again by a combination of lacquer and gold. The bowls can then be used as per normal again, but these days, kintsugi is done more as an art form, and the repaired bowls are more often used for special occasions like tea ceremonies, or appreciated as art pieces. But it gets really deep and interesting when we get to the background philosophy:


"As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise."  - Wikipedia


This is similar to what I mentioned in my previous post on how wabi-sabi embraces imperfections - in fact, you can say that kintsugi's philosophy comes under wabi-sabi.




I love how, in kintsugi, the breakage becomes something defining about the object, rather than something to be repaired, smoothen out and hidden away. The cracks become a key part of the identity, in fact. I came across many writings about how practising kintsugi became part of a healing process for many patients with serious medical conditions, and it's easy to see why. It's almost like a healing by analogy. One repairs a broken bowl like how one heals one's broken body - with acceptance, care and celebration. We accept that bad things happened and try to learn from the event and make some positive out of it. We carefully put them back together again, just as we care for our bodies in healing. The cracks are made more salient with gold, not less, and the brokenness is celebrated. The cracks are where the light shines through.


Now that's so counter-culture, especially in our age of social media perfection and sameness - even though kintsugi had been around longer. We don't show blemishes. We're expected to show our best front forward. Open vulnerability is rare. And that's tiring as hell. Kintsugi is also counter to our rampant disposable consumerism, and our overall unhealthy relationship with material things. When something is broken, it doesn't mean that it's no longer useful. We can recycle, repair or reuse.


I must admit I don't understand kintsugi well enough. Conceptually, I'm enthralled by it, but it's a hands-on art form, after all. I suspect we learn its living philosophy best via our hands, not head. That's why I'm going to Kyoto for three weeks in March to try to learn more about it. Hopefully take some classes, meet some shokunin (traditional Japanese craftsmen) who still practise kintsugi. 


Does anyone know any contacts in Kyoto who do kintsugi? Would love to connect please!

From Jason Leow's collection:

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    @jasonleow Finally got around to reading this and I'm glad I did! Actually, I could have almost written this myself (that is, I would have written something similar and the theme did evoke Kintsugi), as I am also fascinated by this and many other aspects of Japanese culture and I'm very jealous of your upcoming trip! I have thought about living there for a couple of years as that's the only way to get to know any culture, and in this case it would still only be the beginning!

    Thanks for this!

    Arthur Kendall avatar Arthur Kendall | Feb 18, 2019 21:02:05
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      @arthurkendall thanks Arthur! You should go ahead and write it as well! Maybe you'll bring a different perspective to things. I would read it. Yes I'm fascinated by Japanese culture too. That's why I'm staying in one place in Kyoto for 3 weeks to have time to truly immerse. Which aspects of Japanese culture are you particularly interested in btw?

      Jason Leow avatar Jason Leow | Feb 19, 2019 13:47:24
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      @jasonleow I will certainly have to write something about my fascination with Japan and it will no doubt include a reference, after your comment, Jason!

      I guess the aspect which most intrigues me is the way they beautifully combine old and new, respecting both. Utilizing ancient techniques to build state-of-the-art inventions, like super-strong and sharp scalpels based on Samurai sword-making, or eathquake-proof skyscrapers using the amazing design of ancient pagodas (a central pillar which does not touch the ground, so the forces are diffused first through the four ground floor pillars, and the upper floors can move independently, horizontally, with the central pillar, much like a tree, which, of course, are sacred in Japan.

      So this connectedness with nature is another aspect I find fascinating and beautiful - we should all look towards nature for inspiration for our technology, it is the best and fortunately more and more inventors are doing just that.

      Kyoto is top of my list for this ancient-modern juxtaposition. Looking forward to reading about your experiences!!

      Arthur Kendall avatar Arthur Kendall | Feb 20, 2019 13:05:02
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    @jasonleow Yes, the "imprefection" seems to make this pieces perfect :-))),

    Lucjah avatar Lucjah | Feb 01, 2019 11:04:42
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    @jasonleow I've seen these pieces of pottery before but never known they were their own whole practice and art form. A lovely way to look at the week's theme!

    Jessica avatar Jessica | Jan 28, 2019 13:42:00
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      @jessica thanks! Heh the thing about the Japanese is...anything they do can potentially become a whole practice and art form! There's art forms for making tea, flower arrangement, sushi, etc etc. That's what I love about the culture. They really throw themselves into it. 😊

      Jason Leow avatar Jason Leow | Jan 28, 2019 20:57:53
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      @jasonleow @jessica Most trades require a 10 year apprenticeship! Of course, there is a downside to that and it can hinder innovation, but the idea of learning from your elders and taking time to perfect - sorry, get really good at! πŸ˜… - your art is wonderful.

      Arthur Kendall avatar Arthur Kendall | Feb 20, 2019 13:08:41
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