Legend has it that a noble Japanese man named Bakufu, after accidentally and carelessly breaking a bowl that he loved dearly, stumbled across the ancient art of Kintsugi. He was disappointed to see the work of the Chinese artisans when examining their attempt at repairing the bowl. All of the cracks were merely joined together with ugly metal pins. So he sent the bowl to a Japanese craftsman instead.
To his delight, their repair had not only put his treasured bowl back together again but it had improved the beauty of the bowl extraordinary. A new look of the bowl was discovered. Where there once was air, there now was gold, all of the cracks were refilled with shining golden fragments. People now saw in it a bizarre and profound charm, but also an ancient and reflective philosophy.
Japanese Zen Buddhism built a philosophical view based on broken bowls. Over the centuries, Zen masters have suggested that pottery and porcelain bowls should not be discarded. No matter how rotten they are, they still need to be respected and could be healed if enough effort is put into it. The repair process is a symbol of healing over time. And that philosophy is generalized by a single word: Kintsugi, in which ‘kin’ means gold, and ‘tsugi’ means healing.
The literal meaning of this phrase is ‘golden repair’. When the fragments of the pot scatter on the floor, people will pick them up carefully. And then they use glue made of golden powder to attach the pieces together again. Artisans, instead of trying to hide the wounds of ceramics, would choose to do the opposite, expose and embellish the cracks, making the pottery more beautiful and more powerful than ever.
The metaphor of this phrase, however, runs even deeper still. The Kintsugi philosophy is rooted in meditation and is closely linked to Wabi Sabi: Respect for the simple and the old ones; especially those that have been seasoned by hardship and the ups and downs of life.
There is a famous story about Kintsugi art related to the ceremony of tea…
Sen No Rikyu, a famous tea master, once visited a friend’s house. To extend his most gracious hospitality, his friend used the most beautiful teapot he had to make the tea. But Rikyu did not care about the tea or the pot, he only talked about landscapes and flowers. This made his friend very disappointed and after Rikyu left, the owner himself smashed his favorite pot.
The other guests saw the pot laying smashed into pieces on the ground and carefully picked them up. They painstakingly glued them back together again with gold in the tradition of Kintsugi art. Later, when Rikyu returned to his friend’s house, he picked up the teapot and smiled brightly, praising the item and proclaiming that it was now a masterpiece.
Our treatment of cracks
The stories and philosophies surrounding Kintsugi reveal to the modern man a method to face failures and troubles. In a society where new things are cherished, success and prosperity celebrated, and little time is devoted to things now outdated, it is easy to expect a certain level of perfection. However, it is beneficial to see the beauty in the broken, in objects as well as ourselves. It is time to give a more fair view of things deemed as redundant or defected.
We all suffer from pains in life from time to time. When choosing to stand up and learn from what we have experienced, we have the right to pride ourselves on having cracks filled with glittering gold. You become stronger and more complete with each given day thanks to those cracks of gold.
Kintsugi helps us to accept that we are not perfect and neither are others. There is no need to be embarrassed by the past because everything happens for a reason. Instead, we should cherish the wounds that we have endured and overcome, wear them as badges of honor. And know that within those wounds lie the truest beauty of ourselves. Turn the cracks into the highlight of life’s bowl.