Why the Japanese Art of Kintsugi Is Your New Self-Care Hero
It's so much more than repairing broken pottery.
If you've heard of Kintsugi already, you probably associate the term with the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery. This lacquering method uses gold and other metals to mend fragmented pieces, which actually highlights, rather than hides, the repair job.
The results of this reconstruction concept can be stunning-arguably more beautiful than the original piece. However, as many who have studied Japanese traditions will tell you, Kintsugi is so much more than a solve for broken dishes. The philosophies it's based on can serve as guiding principals for a more fulfilling life.
"It's about finding beauty in imperfection," explains Erin Niimi Longhurst, author of "A Little Book of Japanese Contentments." " In Japanese tea ceremony, chips and cracks in cups are seen to be more interesting. We might think of them as defects or flaws, but Kintsugi suggests that they actually make these items more beautiful." Longhurst is also quick to explain that this notion doesn't only apply to objects. "The concept is such a beautiful metaphor for life-and it's really quite empowering. Rather than hiding a scar, for instance, Kintsugi suggests that we embrace and celebrate what makes us different," says Longhurst.
Wellness writer and chef Candice Kumai agrees. In fact, she wrote an entire book-"Kintsugi Wellness"-on the subject. "The term Kintsugi means ‘with golden repair,' and it's just really a metaphor for people to understand that life will never be perfect, and each of us has imperfections and flaws," says Kumai, who spent seven years (plus, ten trips to Japan) researching the concept.
It was during one of her many trips to Japan-while visiting a Kintsugi master, actually-that her wellness philosophy really began to take shape. She likened the theories behind his craft to repairing the broken pieces of her own life.
"It's about self realization, and you have to do work on yourself if you want to get better," says Kumai. "It's not in a pill form, it's not in a retreat, it's not in going to see your westernized doctor. It's more about connecting with other peoples' stories and then realizing that you are just like everyone else, and everyone has flaws-and everyone can work on healing and mending those flaws and becoming a better person."
In her book, she breaks this wellness philosophy into ten principals, including Wabi-Sabi (admire imperfection), Gaman (live life with great resilience), Kaizen (continuously improve) and Kansha (cultivate sincere gratitude), to name a few. Each is further broken down into a multitude of ways that you can practice Kintsugi.
To bring the concept of wabi-sabi into your life, Kumai suggests going on walks to take in the imperfection of nature, trading judgment for acceptance (with others and yourself), and slowing down to appreciate what you have. Gaman, Kumai suggests, can be cultivated by incorporating movement into your everyday routine, participating in group meditations, and letting go of expectations. And, Kansha techniques include writing handwritten thank-you cards and taking time to give gratitude for your meals and the people who were involved in preparing them.
In a more tangible sense, Longhurst suggests investing in items that will stand the test of time, and to consider repairing your belonging rather than replacing them. A shift in mindset can help you to appreciated items because of their perceived wear-and-tear-the patina of a often-used leather bag or worn-in pair of jeans can be a truly good thing.
Audrey Chin, founder of Japanese ceramics site Utsuwawa (and a novice Kintsugi artist herself), has done just this and found that this concept can be effective in both the physical and psychological worlds. When a box of her rare, hand-selected ceramics arrives broken, rather than get upset or file an insurance claim, she uses traditional Kintsugi methods to repair them. "Mending dishes is good for mending the heart," says Chin.