Golden Scars

- Finding Strength in Brokenness with Kintsugi -

By Sensei Jon Davis

10 May 2024

A few days back, my 6 year old daughter fell off of her scooter while riding on the sidewalk, and got some scrapes on her leg to show for it. A few nights later when I was putting her to bed, she was upset and said, “Dad, I think I’m going to have a scar from this!” I responded by saying, “That’s okay, we all pick up scars along the way.” To that she said, “This ugly thing is going to be on my leg or the rest of my life?!?” I responded by saying, “Probably, but that’s okay! Scars can tell a beautiful story about your life!! Every time you look at it, it will remind you of how much you enjoy riding your scooter and playing outside on a beautiful day!” 


Kintsugi is a Japanese artform that involves repairing broken pottery or ceramics with lacquer mixed with powdered gold, silver, and platinum. The term “kintsugi” translates to “golden joinery” or “golden repair.” The philosophy behind kintsugi is deeply rooted in the Japanese aesthetic principles of wabi-sabi, which cherishes imperfection and impermanence.


The technique of kintsugi involves meticulously piecing together broken fragments of a pottery item using the lacquer mixed with special metal powders. Rather than attempting to hide the cracks or fractures, as is often the case in western repair techniques, kintsugi highlights and celebrates these imperfections. The repaired pottery becomes a unique piece of art, with the golden lines accentuating the history and story of the object. It’s not just about restoring the object to its original state; it’s about honoring its journey and embracing the beauty of its flaws.


Legend has it that Sen no Rikyū, master of the Japanese tea ceremony, was once invited to Oda Nobunaga’s residence to perform a tea ceremony. Nobunaga was a powerful and influential daimyo (feudal lord) during the late 16th century. During the ceremony, Rikyū accidentally broke one of Nobunaga’s precious tea bowls, causing great distress to both himself and Nobunaga, who valued the bowl greatly.


Instead of apologizing profusely or attempting to hide the damage, Sen no Rikyū calmly picked up the broken pieces and repaired the bowl using the kintsugi technique, adorning the cracks with gold lacquer. When Nobunaga saw the repaired bowl, he was astonished by it beauty and the way in which the gold accentuated the imperfections.

This act of repairing the broken tea bowl with kintsugi is said to have deeply impressed Oda Nobunaga, who understood the profound symbolism behind it. It’s believed that this event strengthened the bond between Sen no Rikyū and Oda Nobunaga, showcasing not only the aesthetic appeal of kintsugi but also its ability to mend relationships and highlight the value of imperfection.


Symbolically, kintsugi carries profound meanings. It’s seen as a metaphor for the human experience - acknowledging that scars and brokenness are part of life, but they can be transformed into something beautiful and valuable. It teaches acceptance of impermanence and resilience in the face of adversity. The philosophy of kintsugi encourages us to embrace our own imperfections and past experiences, seeing them as integral parts of our identity and journey through life.


 Beyond its artistic and philosophical significance, kintsugi also reflects the Japanese approach to craftsmanship and sustainability. Rather than discarding broken pottery, kinstugi artisans honor its history and craftsmanship by repairing it, thereby extending its life and value.


Overall, kintsugi is not just a technique for repairing pottery - it’s a profound cultural practice that embodies deep philosophical concepts and values, serving as a reminder of the beauty found in imperfection and the transformative power of embracing our flaws.

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