Golden Cracks: The Traditional Japanese Art of Kintsugi

By Staff Writer
March 26, 2024
Kintsugi is a traditional Japanese technique for repairing chipped or broken pottery using natural lacquer and pure gold powder. After the pottery pieces are glued, gold powder is sprinkled or dabbed onto the cracks in the pottery. The gold powder will stick to the excess glue seeping out of the cracks. As a philosophy, it sees breakage and mending as part of an object’s history, rather than something to be disguised. It bears some similarities to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which embraces flaws and imperfections.

Materials used for kintsugi placed on a table
The Japanese tradition of fixing and gluing objects such as vessels with lacquer, similar to kintsugi, has been around since the Jomon period (c. 13,000–300 BC). This tradition was also predominant in China around the same time. Lacquer trees grow both in Japan and China, and people in the past realised that the sap oozing from these trees had an adhesive effect. However, it was not until the Muromachi period (1336-1568), where Japan’s tea ceremony culture flourished, that the kintsugi technique started to be used. It is said that people admired this technique and called it keshiki, which means scenery in Japanese.
A teacup repaired with the kintsugi technique
One theory of the origin of kintsugi is that it emerged when Japanese shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent a damaged Chinese tea bowl back to China for repair in the late 15th century. It is said to have been repaired with metal staples, which were not aesthetically beautiful, and this may have prompted Japanese craftsmen to look for a more aesthetic means of repairing pottery.

Following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake where many objects were destroyed, kintsugi seems to have gained even more popularity. In recent years, a new technique called “simple kintsugi” has emerged, simplifying the process of kintsugi through the introduction of technology. The reason for this is that kintsugi can be time consuming and certain conditions are required for the lacquer to harden.
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