How did you feel the last time a coffee mug slipped from your hands and shattered on your kitchen floor? Probably some combination of surprise and annoyance. If it was an heirloom or a sentimental piece, you may have even felt supremely guilty as you swept up the shards.
In Japan, instead of tossing these pieces in the trash, some craftsmen practice the 500-year-old art of kintsugi, or “golden joinery,” which is a method of restoring a broken piece with a lacquer that is mixed with gold, silver, or platinum.
In the video video below, directed by Daniel Evans, we hear a first-hand account of the importance of kintsugi in Japanese culture. At 27 years old, Kyoto-based Muneaki Shimode is the youngest professional kintsugi craftsman. He explains that in Japanese culture, “it’s very important that we understand the spiritual backgrounds or the history behind… the material.” This is interwoven with the philosophy of wabi-sabi, which means “to find beauties in broken things or old things,” Shimode explains.
While the general Western consensus on broken objects is that they have lost their value, practitioners and admirers of kintsugi believe that neverending consumerism is not a spiritually rewarding experience.
The kintsugi method conveys a philosophy not of replacement, but of awe, reverence, and restoration. The gold-filled cracks of a once-broken item are a testament to its history. Shimode points out that “The importance in kintsugi is not the physical appearance, it is… the beauty and the importance [that] stays in the one who is looking at the dish.”
Non-Japanese makers may not realize it, but we practice this philosophy when we see a broken object’s potential, when we upcycle, when we repurpose, when we reincarnate an object that would otherwise likely be thrown away.
As Shimode says, “It’s one beautiful way of living, that you fix your dish by yourself.”