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Perfectly imperfect: the Japanese craft of kintsugi

Perfectly imperfect: the Japanese craft of kintsugi

Design writer Roddy Clarke explores the Japanese craft of kintsugi, which celebrates the beauty of broken ceramics, and discovers it has emotional as well as practical resonance.

When discussing the term ‘repair’, we habitually think of an item returning to its perfect state. However, through the age-old Japanese ceramic craft kintsugi, an alternative result is presented; one celebrating the damage visibly through the application of powdered gold and other precious metals. Dating back to at least the 16th century and translating to ‘joining with gold’, kintsugi has seen a resurgence in recent years with artisans making it more accessible on a global scale.

Mending cracked or broken ceramic items with a combination of tree-sap lacquer (urushi) and rice glue, the positive philosophy behind kintsugi is also resonating with a new audience. Coupled with a rise in the desire for craft (The Crafts Council reported that the number of UK craft buyers had risen from 16.9 million in 2010 to 31.6 million in 2020), the love for kintsugi is blossoming, so much so that many organisations across the country are championing its cause. Locations are offering workshops, DIY kits, talks and presentations, helping us to become more acquainted with the craft directly.

Ryoko Mutasono, director of London-based Japanese design store Wagumi, has witnessed this recent surge first-hand and notes its sustainable element. ‘People want to engage with new ideas of beauty, and not see items being discarded,’ she explains when discussing the workshops she has been organising for London Craft Week. ‘To allow things to continue to be used, like patching socks for example, can be seen as a new stage of life for an object. Once you begin to think this way, there’s almost an excitement when you smash something while washing up! It can be the start of something new.’

Iku Nishikawa, founder of Kintsugi Oxford and a presenter of the craft at Japan House London, shares a similar determination to help spread the joy of this captivating art form, historically only accessible in Japan. Organising workshops, lessons and repairs for private clients, Nishikawa emphasises how the craft still needs further recognition, and experts of kintsugi struggle to make a full-time living from it. ‘We have to challenge the outdated image of crafts,’ she comments. ‘Craftspeople need to be recognised in the same way designers are, and utilise social networks to bring their profile up to date. This way, larger organisations and governments do more to support them.’

That being said, the preservation of kintsugi is looking hopeful as homeowners become more attuned to investing in pieces they can personally connect to. ‘We’re narrating the moment of breakage,’ Mutasono continues. ‘It’s about accepting and celebrating it. Kintsugi acknowledges how we can live through fragile moments and yet still focus on the beauty which forms through them.’ As she speaks, I understand that by adopting this mindset we can find peace on a wider scale too. ‘Being broken is another stage,’ she concludes. ‘We decorate and celebrate the lines and move forward with time.’ Provoking a serenity within me, I’m left considering kintsugi as a representation of the human form: perfectly imperfect, completely unique and a masterful work of art.

Roddy Clarke contributes to titles including Forbes, the FT and the London Evening Standard. His passion for interiors, antiques and sustainability stems from his childhood, learning from his father – a china and porcelain restorer. @roddyclarkedesign

Tags: Features