—Sen no Rikyu
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?
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. Kintsugi was created soon after when Japanese craftsmen sought out to find a more beautiful pottery repair method.
Kintsugi is closely tied to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, the appreciation of imperfection, and mottainai, the regret one feels when something is wasted 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. 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 is still valued in Japanese ceremony to this day.
Repairing a cup or teapot using kintsugi symbolizes Zen ideals. Even broken pots should be cherished and fixed 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 was invited to a dinner where the host hoped to impress the tea master with one of his marvelous collection pieces of antique pottery from China. The master, however, didn’t but so glance at it and enjoyed the simple scenery from outside the window. After the dinner, the host smashed the pottery in despair. Other attendees gathered the broken pieces and repaired it with kintsugi. The next time Sen no Rikyu came to visit he looked at the repaired jar and simply said: ‘Now it is magnificent’.
Is Kintsugi Food Safe?
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.
Nowadays there are many DIY tutorials for easy home-made 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, and the pottery should not be used in tea ceremony. Other ways to use it can be as a decoration or flower pot.
Should I Use Kintsugi To Repair My TeaWare?
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. Repairing a teapot kintsugi will cost over $100, especially if you are employing a trusted master.
Whether or not you should use the kintsugi repair method boils down to how much the piece means to you. Is it an invaluable, one-of-a-kind piece of pottery or 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.