Kintsugi (金継ぎ, "golden joinery"), also known as kintsukuroi (金繕い, "golden repair"),[1] is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, a method similar to the maki-e technique.[2][3][4] As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.[5]

Repair work (right) on Mishima ware hakeme-type tea bowl with kintsugi gold lacquer, 16th century (Ethnological Museum of Berlin)
Small repair (top) on Nabeshima ware dish with hollyhock design, overglaze enamel, 18th century, Edo period (Tokyo National Museum)


Lacquerware is a longstanding tradition in Japan,[6][7] and at some point kintsugi may have been combined with maki-e as a replacement for other ceramic repair techniques. While the process is associated with Japanese craftsmen, the technique was also applied to ceramic pieces of other origins including China, Vietnam, and Korea.[8]

Kintsugi became closely associated with ceramic vessels used for chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremony).[3] One theory is that kintsugi may have originated when Japanese shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent a damaged Chinese tea bowl back to China for repairs in the late 15th century. When it was returned, repaired with ugly metal staples, it may have prompted Japanese craftsmen to look for a more aesthetic means of repair.[9] Collectors became so enamored of the new art that some were accused of deliberately smashing valuable pottery so it could be repaired with the gold seams of kintsugi.[2] On the other hand, according to Bakōhan Saōki (record of tea-bowl with a 'large-locust' clamp), such "ugliness" was inspirational and Zen in a way as it connotes beauty in broken things. The bowl became valued even more highly because of these large metal staples, which looked like a locust and the bowl was named Bakōhan (large-locust clamp).[10]


As a philosophy, kintsugi can be seen to have similarities to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, an embracing of the flawed or imperfect.[11][12] Japanese aesthetics values marks of wear by the use of an object. This can be seen as a rationale for keeping an object around even after it has broken and as a justification of kintsugi itself, highlighting the cracks and repairs as simply an event in the life of an object rather than allowing its service to end at the time of its damage or breakage, and can be seen as a variant of the adage "Waste not, want not".[13]

Kintsugi can relate to the Japanese philosophy of "no mind" (無心, mushin), which encompasses the concepts of non-attachment, acceptance of change, and fate as aspects of human life.[14]

Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated... a kind of physical expression of the spirit of mushin....Mushin is often literally translated as "no mind," but carries connotations of fully existing within the moment, of non-attachment, of equanimity amid changing conditions. ...The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject. This poignancy or aesthetic of existence has been known in Japan as mono no aware, a compassionate sensitivity, or perhaps identification with, [things] outside oneself.

— Christy Bartlett, Flickwerk: The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics

Types of joineryEdit

There are a few major styles or types of kintsugi:

  • Crack (ひび), the use of gold dust and resin or lacquer to attach broken pieces with minimal overlap or fill-in from missing pieces
  • Piece method (欠けの金継ぎ例), where a replacement ceramic fragment is not available and the entirety of the addition is gold or gold/lacquer compound
  • Joint call (呼び継ぎ), where a similarly shaped but non-matching fragment is used to replace a missing piece from the original vessel creating a patchwork effect[15]

Related techniquesEdit

Nanking reticulated basket, c. 1750, mended with metal staples

Staple repair is a similar technique used to repair broken ceramic pieces,[16] where small holes are drilled on either side of a crack and metal staples are bent to hold the pieces together.[17] Staple repair was used in Europe (in ancient Greece, England and Russia among others) and China as a repair technique for particularly valuable pieces.[17]

Influence on modern artEdit

Kintsugi is the general concept of highlighting or emphasizing imperfections, visualizing mends and seams as an additive or an area to celebrate or focus on, rather than absence or missing pieces. Modern artists experiment with the ancient technique as a means of analyzing the idea of loss, synthesis, and improvement through destruction and repair or rebirth.[18]

While originally ignored as a separate art form, kintsugi and related repair methods have been featured at exhibitions at the Freer Gallery at the Smithsonian, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art.[2][8][12][19]

Referenced in the film Chemical Hearts, directed by Richard Tanne, when character Henry Page celebrates and engages in the art form.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "definition of Kintsugi".
  2. ^ a b c Gopnik, Blake (March 3, 2009), "At Freer, Aesthetic Is Simply Smashing", The Washington Post.
  3. ^ a b "Golden Seams: The Japanese Art of Mending Ceramics", Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian, archived from the original on 2009-03-17, retrieved 3 March 2009.
  4. ^ "Daijisen".
  5. ^ "Kintsugi: The Centuries-Old Art of Repairing Broken Pottery with Gold". My Modern Met. 2017-04-25. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  6. ^ Ota, Alan K. (September 22, 1985). "Japan's Ancient Art of Lacquerware". New York Times.
  7. ^ Ken, Johnson (April 4, 2008). "A Craft Polished to the Lofty Heights of Art". New York Times. Retrieved April 5, 2014.
  8. ^ a b "Golden Seams: The Japanese Art of Mending Ceramics". Smithsonian. November 8, 2008. Retrieved 2014-04-05.
  9. ^ Gopnik, Blake (March 3, 2009). "'Golden Seams: The Japanese Art of Mending Ceramics' at Freer". The Washington Post.
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Kintsugi Is Recognizing Beauty in Broken Things | Make". Make: DIY Projects and Ideas for Makers. 2015-08-17. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  12. ^ a b Andrea Codrington, Lippke (December 15, 2010). "In Make-Do Objects, Collectors Find Beauty Beyond Repair". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-04-05.
  13. ^ Kwan, Pui Ying. "Exploring Japanese Art and Aesthetic as inspiration for emotionally durable design" (PDF). Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  14. ^ Flickwerk The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics Paperback, January 1, 2008 by Christy, James Henry Holland and Charly Iten Bartlett
  15. ^ "Gold joint (mending gold) What is it?" (in Japanese). 2013-05-04. Retrieved 2014-04-02.
  16. ^ Kahn, Eve (January 17, 2013). "It's as Good as Glue: Mending Shattered China". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-04-05.
  17. ^ a b "Stapled Repairs on Chine; Confessions of a curious collector". Antiques Journal. February 2012: 37–40. Archived from the original on 2014-04-07. Retrieved 2014-04-05. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  18. ^ Taylor, Andrew (February 27, 2011). "Smashing idea to put it together again". Sydney Morning Herald.
  19. ^ "The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics | Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art". Retrieved 2017-09-23.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

  Media related to Kintsugi at Wikimedia Commons