in Japanese, ‘Kintsugi’ literally means ‘golden repair’. It is the practice of restoring broken items (most often ceramics) with distinctively coloured glue, usually gold. Philosophically, it considers brokenness part of the story of an object, and something to be celebrated rather than hidden. The use of the distinctively coloured lacquer purposefully calls attention to the faults and cracks, and an object is seen as more beautiful than when it was ‘unblemished’. It was so popular at one point, that people would intentionally break things, just so they could undergo ‘golden repair’.
When I first heard of Kintsugi I thought it was incredibly poignant and symbolic. When we suffer trauma, it can eventually make us ‘better’: it may enable us to appreciate life on a deeper level, instill greater empathy and develop emotional resilience. Some of the most mature, kind and wise people I know, have been through incredibly difficult, and even harrowing experiences. Don’t mistake this for people who wallow in pain and self pity, I am talking about those who get knocked down, but get up again, to paraphrase Chumbawamba. All of our experiences, good and bad, are what make us who we are, today.
This is particularly relevant for British culture, which commonly avoids displays of emotion, especially negative ones. We tend to want things to be ‘nice’ and never awkward. Individual pain is seen as something that is at it’s best when it is private. It is the perfect example of individual and collective repression. The stiff upper lip.
I broke a bowl several months ago.
I kept it so I could experiment with Kintsugi but never got around to it, and it was just collecting dust. Then a friend posted a photo of his Kintsugi project, and with fresh zeal I ordered a kit online, and when it arrived it took less than 30 minutes to repair. Before you think this blog is about me bragging about my arts and crafts ability, I reckon a 10 year old could have done it in half the time.
There is also a great ethical/green angle, instead of throwing the bowl away and eventually buying a new one, this one is now fit for purpose again. Bad for consumerism and makers of bowls, but good for the planet, and I think, good for my soul. I look forward to the next time I break something.