The 400+ year old Japanese art of kintsugi (golden repair) or kintsukuroi (golden joinery) is a pottery repair method that honors the artifact’s unique history by emphasizing, not hiding, the break.
According to art historians, kintsugi came about accidentally (well, it does fit). When the 15th-century shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa broke his favorite tea bowl, he sent it to China for repairs and was disappointed that it came back stapled together. The metal pins were unsightly, so local craftsmen came up with a solution — they filled the crack with a golden lacquer, making the bowl more unique and valuable. This repair elevated the fallen bowl back to its place as shogun’s favorite and prompted a whole new art form.
An art form born from mottainai — the feeling of regret when something is wasted — and “mushin,” the need to accept change: the cracks are seamed with lacquer resin and powdered gold, silver, or platinum, and often reference natural forms like waterfalls, rivers, or landscapes. This method transforms the artifact into something new, making it more rare, beautiful, and storied than the original.
Why is this art also important for us as humans?
You probably don’t expect other people to be perfect. You may in fact appreciate when people expose their vulnerabilities, show old wounds or admit mistakes. It’s evidence that we’re all fallible, that we heal and grow, that we survive blows to the ego or to our reputations or health and can live to tell the tale. Exposing vulnerabilities, by admitting errors, creates intimacy and trust in relationships, and fosters mutual understanding.
Still, though we’re often relieved when others are truthful, we’re afraid to expose ourselves. We see other people’s honesty about their flaws as positive, but we consider admitting our own failures much more problematic.
This happens because we understand other people’s experiences abstractly, but see our own very concretely. We feel the things that happen to us intimately and physically. On the other hand, what happens to others functions more like an instructive tale, because the pain of failure isn’t our own and the distance gives us perspective. We all understand in theory that bad things…