Kintsugi (金継ぎ) Philosophy

Literally, Kin = golden and tsugi = joinery or it means ‘to join with gold’. In Zen aesthetics, the broken pieces of an accidentally-smashed pot should be carefully picked up, reassembled and then glued together with lacquer inflected with a very luxuriant gold powder. There should be no attempt to disguise the damage, the point is to render the fault-lines beautiful and strong. The precious veins of gold are there to emphasise that breaks have a philosophically-rich merit all of their own.

The origins of Kintsugi are said to date to the Muromachi period, when the Shogon of Japan, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408) broke his favourite tea bowl and, distraught, sent it to be repaired in China. But on its return, he was horrified by the ugly metal staples that had been used to join the broken pieces, and charged his craftsmen with devising a more appropriate solution. What they came up with was a method that didn’t disguise the damage, but made something properly artful out of it.

Kintsugi’s significance is not limited to the field of restoring broken ceramics, it’s a thought-provoking notion that can be applied to our lives. The most immediate lesson that can be learned from Kintsugi is that we need to think carefully before designating something as useless. All resources are valuable and should therefore be treated accordingly. It also encourages us to live humbly and eliminate our tendency to focus on materialism.

Kintsugi teaches us to celebrate imperfections and that as human beings, imperfections are inevitable, whether in appearance, character or actions. Learning to accept our flaws is a process that will lead to a deeper sense of peace and fulfilment.

Accepting imperfections helps us to break free from the obsession of perfectionism which causes unnecessary stress and inhibiting creativity and productivity. The philosophy of Kintsugi art has the potential to improve life in the modern society.

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