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Cultural Traces Around the World

Japanese Traditional Crafts, Part 1 of 2 - Kintsugi: Finding Beauty in Mending Pottery

2021-11-24
Language:English

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Japan has a long history of ceramics, dating back to the Jōmon period (c. 14,000 – 300 BC), when pottery became widespread in the country, including for decorative purposes. Japanese potters have used lacquer in their work since around 2,400 BC.

Traditional Japanese lacquer is commonly called urushi lacquer because it’s made from the sap of the urushi tree. In Kintsugi, lacquer is used to repair broken pottery, but then instead of hiding the cracks or repairs, a sprinkling of gold, silver or platinum is added to enhance it. If gold is used, the process is called “kintsugi,” where “kin” means “gold” and “tsugi” means “joinery.” With a delicate touch of kintsugi and a little bit of TLC, broken items gain a new life and dignity, symbolizing the beauty of healing and rebirth.

The Zen Buddhist aesthetic behind Kintsugi is connected with the Japanese ideal of mushin a state of mind free from anger, fear, and ego. A person who has achieved a state of mushin accepts and embraces change and fate as aspects of human existence, so he or she recognizes, and even celebrates the beauty in broken, imperfect things.

Mr. Hidetoshi Nobu is a second-generation kintsugi master from Takeo town in Saga Prefecture in Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s main islands. Mr. Nobu is so skilled at kintsugi that he frequently restores historical artwork for museums and art dealers. He has seen a rise in the number of requests from private individuals over the past few decades. Mr. Nobu also teaches kintsugi workshops around Japan.

Another famous kintsugi enthusiast and teacher is Mr. Kunio Nakamura, the owner of the Sixth Dimension bookstore cafe in Ogikubo, Tokyo, where he hosts kintsugi classes. As a freelance director of art and travel shows, Mr. Nakamura has visited over 40 countries, and has written many books on the art of Kintsugi.

Kintsugi is increasingly being recognized as a method of quieting and healing the mind. By tending to the cracks and broken pieces and creating something beautiful from them, one learns to appreciate life’s flaws and imperfections, and that opportunities for healing, growth, and transformation are always present.
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