The year is 1460, little Akira sits on a mat in his father’s workshop in Kyoto. It’s way past his bedtime, but he just can’t tear himself away from the beautiful ceramic bowl that has caught his attention the whole evening. He gazes at the beautiful blues and marvels at the many shades of green he glimpses in the glow of the lantern light. His father gently requests him to go to sleep and just as he gets up, the bowl slips from his hands and breaks. Tears well up in Akira's eyes, he can’t believe that this beautiful bowl, which was so flawless has now broken. He falls to the ground next to the shattered pieces and begins to cry. When his father sees what’s happened, he picks him up and tells him not to be upset and that he’ll repair the bowl in such a way that it’ll be even more beautiful than before. Akira’s not convinced however he decides to believe his father. His father is after all the chief craftsman to the mighty Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa.
The next morning as soon as Akira's eyes open to the early morning light glistening through the cherry blossom trees in full bloom, he runs to his father’s workshop. On his father’s simple wooden work table lies Akira’s bowl. It’s in one piece, but it doesn’t look like it did before. Akira is visibly disappointed. The pieces have been joined together and the cracks have been highlighted with what looks to him like gold. Sensing his disappointment, his father sits him down. He asks Akira to try and keep an open mind and to look at the bowl again, but in a completely new way. In his soft, soothing voice he explains that there's a special kind of beauty in emphasising the cracks instead of hiding them. "We must be able to perceive the beauty of the bowl in its entirety with all it's flaws," he says. He goes on to explain to Akira the art and philosophy of "Kintsugi”.
Kintsugi, literally translates into golden joinery. It’s the centuries old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with a special lacquer, dusted with powdered gold, silver or platinum. Beautiful seams of gold glisten in the cracks of the ceramic ware, revitalising it with a new lease of life while celebrating it’s imperfections. Akira’s father tells him that the mighty shogun had sent a cracked ‘Chawan’ or tea bowl back to China to be repaired. When it was returned, Yoshimasa was very displeased to see that it had been mended with ugly metal staples. He asked his craftsmen to find an aesthetically pleasing method to repair the bowl and the art of Kintsugi was born.
There are three predominant styles of Kintsugi. While in each case gold dusted epoxy resin is used to repair the broken pottery, the methods vary.
Crack: Objects repaired using this method, are touched up using minimal lacquer.
Joint-call: This method uses similar shaped pieces from other broken wares, combining two aesthetically different works into one unified work of art.
Kintsugi is heavily influenced by the ancient Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi. It’s a sensibility based on an appreciation of the transient beauty of the physical world. Rooted in Zen philosophy Wabi-Sabi celebrates all that is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. It embodies the appeal of the modest and the rustic, the beauty and serenity of the ageing process, dried falling leaves and the comfort of an old blanket are all examples of Wabi-Sabi. It promotes a completely alternative approach to the western concept of beauty, which celebrates perfection, symmetry and mathematical precision.
Akira’s father explains to him, that if something is cracked or broken its not useless. Once repaired its transformed into something more beautiful. It’s flaws and cracks add to the beauty for they celebrate what it has endured.
Akira hugs his father, he doesn’t completely understand the depth of his father’s words but he knows it's something very important. From the corner of his eye he sees his bowl, the gold in the cracks gleam in the sunlight and he has to agree that it's looking more beautiful than before.
“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”- Leonard Cohen
References: My Modern Met, Andrew Juniper