How kintsugi helps us embrace our flaws
By A. Fiodorenko
Can beauty be discovered in brokenness? Learn all about the symbolic truths hidden in the ancient Japanese repair technique of kintsugi.
As modern consumers we’re inundated with a never-ending supply of machine-made, flawless products. Perfection is now the norm, a standard that isn’t just applied to physical products, but one that’s also affecting how we think about our lifestyles. Through curated social media feeds, we’re encouraged to show the best version of our lives and of ourselves, and not the beautiful flaws that make us human. In this particular moment in time, Japanese kintsugi (金継ぎ, golden joinery) might just be the imperfectly perfect solution to help us joyfully embrace our flaws.
A brief history
While the use of natural lacquer urushi (sap extracted from poisonous lacquer tree) has its roots in the pre-historical Jōmon period, the emergence of kintsugi dates back to the 15th century with the rise of chawan – tea bowls used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. One legend has it that the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa accidentally broke his one-of-a-kind Chinese tea bowl and the Japanese craftsmen were sent on a quest to find more refined mending solutions than the Chinese method of repair using staples. The final result was aesthetically pleasing and kintsugi arose as a practical, albeit luxury, way to fix a broken object. By the 17th century, kintsugi was a ubiquitous technique for repairing precious ceramics.
Antidote to unattainable perfection
It’s only in recent years though that kintsugi has been creating a buzz in Japan and abroad. Demonstrating key differences between Eastern and Western philosophies, the golden repair technique expresses an attractive wabi-sabi philosophy that cultivates an appreciation for imperfection and impermanence. In contrast to the Western aesthetic, striving for perfection and elimination of flaws, the aesthetic of kintsugi highlights the lines of fracture. Inspired by these concepts, more people are reinterpreting kintsugi as a mindset that can help us overcome obstacles and foster resilience.
Kintsugi as an expression of Mottainai
The global spike in interest in kintsugi is also linked to the popularization of the Japanese mindset of “mottainai,” that motivates people to use objects to their full potential. Traditionally, Japanese culture has fostered habits of reusing, repairing, recycling and respecting items, practices rooted in Buddhist philosophy. The kintsugi technique could be seen as a physical manifestation of the “mottainai” concept as it breathes second life into what others might consider useless shards of pottery. Traditionally, Japan has come up with a myriad of ways to reduce waste (some of them you can find here ) and, among them, kintsugi has especially proven to be popular with the zero waste and sustainability communities the world over.
As we realize the environmental impacts of mass-production and consumption and of the emptiness of the pursuit of perfection, we yearn for the acceptance of imperfection and brokenness. The technique of kintsugi gives us the perfect nudge in the right direction.