Kintsugi: The Japanese Art of Finding Beauty in Broken Dishes

Repair your broken plates, bowls, and dinnerware with golden seams.

kintsugi bowl
Photo: The Book of Life

When you accidentally break a plate or a bowl, chances are you throw it away. However, what if you could put it back together and have it look even more beautiful than before? That is the idea behind kintsugi, the ancient Japanese art of restoring broken ceramic pottery that might otherwise end up in the trash. In Japanese, the word kintsugimeans "golden rejoining," and refers to the Zen philosophy of acknowledging flaws, embracing change, and restoring an object with a newfound beauty. It's believed by many that this special technique originated in the 15th century when Japanese shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu accidentally broke his favorite tea bowl and sent it to China for repairs.

When it was returned to him—pieced together with metal staples—he charged his Japanese craftsmen with finding a more aesthetic repair method. What they developed was the method of kintsugi, which uses lacquer dusted with gold or other metals to repair cracked, chipped, or broken dishes. The results are gorgeous.

The idea behind kintsugi is to highlight—rather than hide—an object's flaws, making them beautiful instead of unsightly. This is a prominent theme in the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which is all about embracing imperfections. Traditional kintsugi uses urushi lacquer (derived from the sap of a Chinese lacquer tree) to repair broken pottery. The process involves applying multiple layers of lacquer to the seam using a fine-point paintbrush, letting it dry, removing excess with turpentine oil, then polishing the surface until smooth. The final layer of lacquer is coated in golden dust and then burnished to result in a beautifully repaired object.

There are a few ways to recreate the beautiful look of kintsugi at home. We suggest using a clear epoxy to reaffix a fragmented piece, holding it in place with modeling clay and letting cure for at least one hour. Once completely dry, remove the clay and scrape off excess with a small razor blade. Using a fine-point paintbrush, apply liquid gilding over the repaired seam for a glimmering golden look.

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