Meditative Arts: The Practice of Kintsugi

‘In repairing the object you really ended up loving it more, because you now knew its eagerness to be reassembled, and in running a fingertip over its surface you alone could feel its many cracks – a bond stronger than mere possession.’ ~ Nicholson Baker

A Very Brief History of Kintsugi

Kin (金) means gold and Tsugi (継ぎ) means joinery/repair. The origins of Kintsugi (金継ぎ) are said to date back to the fifteen century to the Muromachi Jidai (室町時代, also known as the Ashikaga era or period). When the third shogun of Japan, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358 to 1408), broke his favourite tea bowl, distraught, he sent it to be hand-repaired in China. Later, with Yoshimitsu’s insistence on making the ceramic repair more aesthetically appealing, Kintsugi (金継ぎ) as the Japanese art of gold repair was born and refined. Later again, under the rule of the eighth shogun of Japan, Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1449 to 1473), Japan saw the development of the cultural movement Higashiyama Bunka (東山文化) that was heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism, introduced from China (where it is known as Chán, 禪) to Japan and developed as Zen (禅) from the fourteenth century. As such, Kintsugi (金継ぎ) as well as the traditions of tea ceremony (Chanoyu, 茶の湯, also known as Sado or Chado, 茶道), the art of flower arranging (Ikebana, 生け花, also known as Kado, 華道), and the art of Chinese-style of ink-wash painting (Shuǐmòhuà, 水墨畫, in Chinese; Sumi-e, 墨絵, in Japanese), evolved as practices of the meditative arts onwards from this time.

The Philosophy of Kintsugi 

Kintsugi (金継ぎ) pertains to the Zen philosophical ideals of Wabi Sabi (侘寂), which cherishes what is simple, unpretentious and aged—particularly if it has a weathered quality—as it represents the transience and imperfection of all living things. In a time that worships youth, perfection and the new, the art of Kintsugi (金継ぎ) retains a particular kind of wisdom. That is, the tender-loving-care committed to the shattered ceramics should afford us the confidence to respect what is damaged, scarred or wounded, for it is vulnerable and imperfect. In turn, we should extend this philosophical wisdom firstly to ourselves and then to others. Thus, the art of Kintsugi (金継ぎ) is a metaphor for learning to live with a gracious acceptance of vulnerability and imperfection. The breakages are part of the life history and natural beauty of the object, and so they are not to be disguised, hidden or eradicated, but rather they are to be embraced. Just as the scars we carry on the outside and inside of our bodies are part of the formation of our authentic being, so are the breakages on the ceramic objects we lovingly repair with gold. With the practice of Kintsugi (金継ぎ) we celebrate—as opposed to reject—all parts of the same unified whole.

The Techniques of Kintsugi

Kintsugi flourished during times of the Zen aesthetic. The broken pieces of an accidentally-smashed ceramic object should be carefully picked up, reassembled and then glued back together. There are three types of joinery. The most common is the ‘crack joint method’ (Hibi no Kintsugi Rei, ひびの金継ぎ例), which is the joinery of simple lines. The second is the ‘chip joint method’ (Kake no Kintsugi Rei, 欠けの金継ぎ例), which uses clay to refill the larger chips that are entirely missing. The third is the ‘handover joint method’ (Yobitsugi, 呼び継ぎ), whereby a similarly shaped but non-matching piece is used to replace a missing piece from the original ceramic object. Following this, the piece is sealed with a kind of clay (Urushi, 漆), which is a sap that has been sourced for thousands of years from the Rhus Verniciflua plant in East Asia. Finally, it is finished with a luxuriant gold powder to render the breakages both beautiful and strong. From then on, the precious veins of gold are present as a means of emphasising that breakages, fault-lines, scars and wounds carry a philosophical meaning all of their own.

The Practice of Kintsugi  

Courses for learning the meditative art of Kintsugi are few and far between outside of Japan. Recommendations here can only be based on our own personal training and experience and are linked just below. Visit Oh the Light Gets In to buy original pieces of Kintsugi ceramic art that are lovingly designed and hand-crafted for spiritual spaces.

See also: Art WorkKintsugi Oxford; Kana London