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Should You Try Kintsugi? (Japanese Pottery Repair)

Posted by Angelina Kurganska on


kintsugi chawan

Chawan Repaired Using Kintsugi 

Should we use kintsugi to repair our broken pottery and teaware? Whenever we are faced with the harsh reality of our favorite teapot that we painstakingly brought back from Japan breaking, we must ask ourselves the following question:
"Out with the old" or do I try repairing it?

Certainly, for many merely throwing it away is not an option. Especially if the piece of teaware has a lot of meaning to us. Or, if we just recently acquired it.

A quick search online and you will see kintsugi as the number one suggested method of mending broken pottery. But is it really worth it? 


First, What is Kintsugi?

Kin meaning golden, and tsugi meaning joinery.

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of pottery repair using lacquer mixed with powdered gold. It emphasizes the cracks and broken part of the pottery in no way trying to hide it. Instead kintsugi respects the story of the utensil, encorouging to embrace the imperfection.

The History of Kintsugi

Kintsugi as art was first founded in 15th century Japan. The Japanese shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent a cracked chawan he favored to China in hope of getting it repaired. When the tea bowl arrived back to its owner, Yoshimasa discovered it was restored using harsh-looking metal staples and was no longer appealing to the eye. Japanese craftsmen created kintsugi soon after while seeking a more beautiful pottery repair method.  

Kintsugi Philosophy

Kintsugi is closely tied to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, the appreciation of imperfection. Furthermore, it also encompasses the philosophy of mottainai, the regret we feel when we waste something. Thus, striving to preserve as much as possible.

What Are The Kintsugi Repair Methods?

  • crack — putting the broken pieces together using minimal lacquer
  • piece — replacing a broken piece using only epoxy
  • joint-call — combining together broken fragments from two different tea wares, creating a new and unique work of art

Kintsugi In Japanese Tea Ceremony

In the 16th century, a significant shift happened in the world of Japanese tea ceremony. Before this era, the tea ceremony was about lavish and luxury. However, tea ceremony masters chose to change these ideals. In turn, prizing items that had a used and rugged appearance. This change in ideals is deeply tied into the concept of wabi-sabi that tea masters still value in the Japanese tea ceremony to this day.

Repairing a cup or teapot using kintsugi symbolizes Zen ideals. Hence, we should cherish and fix even broken pots using great care and mastery. In this way, we can honor the times it has given us.

There is a story about the great tea master Sen no Rikyu, one of the founders of wabi-sabi. Once he attended a dinner. There, the host hoped to impress the tea master with one of his marvelous collection pieces of antique pottery from China. However, the master didn’t but so glance at it and enjoyed the simple scenery from outside the window. Consequently, after the dinner, the host smashed the pottery in despair. Other attendees gathered the broken pieces and repaired them with kintsugi. The next time Sen no Rikyu came to visit he looked at the repaired jar and simply said: ‘Now it is magnificent’.


kintsugi repair


If you have one teapot
And can brew your tea in it
That will do quite well.
How much does he lack himself
Who must have a lot of things?        

                                                                                                  —Sen no Rikyu

Is Kintsugi Food Safe?

Certainly, this is the big arguable question.

Traditional kintsugi follows a repair method using natural urushi lacquer which if mixed with pure powdered gold is in fact food safe.

Albeit, nowadays there are many DIY tutorials for easy homemade kintsugi using epoxy glue and in some cases not even pure gold. While this method of repair can be fun to try for aesthetic purposes, it is not food-safe. Hence, this pottery should not be used in tea ceremonies. Other ways to use it can be as a decoration or flower pot.

Should I Use Kintsugi To Repair My Teaware?

Certainly, if you’re intent is to use real urushi lacquer with gold dust then it is important to note that it is not the cheapest repair method. For instance, repairing a teapot with kintsugi can cost over $100. Especially if you are employing a trusted master.

In short, whether or not you should use the kintsugi repair method boils down to how much the piece means to you. For example, is it an invaluable, one-of-a-kind piece of pottery? On the other hand, is it a teapot you can replace fairly easily? If it is the latter, you may want to reconsider investing in kintsugi and find a different purpose for your broken pottery.