How Kintsugi, The Japanese Method of “Golden Repair,” Makes Broken Pottery Even More Beautiful

Updated 09/27/19
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Stylistically, Kintsugi-style dishware and decor accents are undeniably beautiful. But perhaps what’s even more attractive is the ancient Japanese philosophy behind it. 

What is Kintsugi?

Kintsugi, which translates to “golden journey” or “golden repair”, is the ancient Japanese art of mending broken pottery with a powdered gold, silver, or platinum lacquer, which makes the re-formed piece of pottery even more beautiful than the original, thanks to it’s glittering veins of metallic “glue.”

It is believed that the art of Kintsugi began in the late 1400s, when shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa—who reigned from 1449 to 1473 during the Muromachi period of Japan—sent a broken tea bowl back to China to be fixed. It’s said that, upon its return, the damaged dish was held together with unsightly staples, inspiring Japanese artisans to find a way to repair broken pottery so it looked just as good as new — if not better. 

And hence, the centuries-long practice of Kintsugi repair emerged.

What makes the art of Kintsugi so special is that, rather than attempting to hide a piece’s damage and imperfections, it celebrates them. This practice of “golden repair” commemorates these events as an integral part of the pottery’s life story, instead of attempting to hide this troubling part of its past.

While it started as a craftsman’s technique for mending damaged pottery, if viewed through a broader lens, the art of Kintsugi can also be seen as a Japanese philosophy—similar to the concept of wabi-sabi—which encourages one to find beauty in imperfection.

In fact, many have adopted this Kintsugi philosophy and adapted its message for use in daily life. Many see the Kintsugi philosophy as a guide for how to find happiness, heal trauma and mend one’s mind and spirit, and numerous books have been written on the subject.

How Does Kintsugi Repair Work?

Kintsugi repair uses urushi lacquer—a traditional lacquer made from tree sap that has been used as glue and paint by the Japanese for over 9,000 years—dusted or mixed with gold powder to “glue” the broken pieces back together. The result is fine thread-line veins of gold that indicate where the broken pieces have been adjoined.

Even more impressive, when tiny splinters of the original pottery are missing, it’s sometimes possible to fill in these larger gaps with the urushi lacquer, creating thicker veins of gold on the mended piece. This type of repair is called the piece method.

How to Try the Art of Kintsugi Yourself

If you want to try the art of Kintsugi at home, your best bet is to buy an all-inclusive Kintsugi repair kit on Amazon. But be warned: They’re pretty pricey, if you want to buy the real deal!

For a lower-cost option that yields similar-looking results, try this epoxy-based Kintsugi kit instead.

However, if you just want to DIY the look on a decorative piece of pottery, you could consider this more accessible option: Simply draw your own golden “cracks" onto a piece of decorative pottery (not food- or dishwasher-safe) using a gold leaf pen.

And if DIY projects really aren’t your thing, you can shop the look instead.

Shop Items Inspired By the Japanese art of Kintsugi

bowl repaired with gold
Seletti Kintsugi Salad Bowl $110
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Made from mixed-matched pieces of porcelain, this salad bowl pays homage to the ancient art of Kintsugi.

glass with gold repairs
Seletti Kintsugi Glass 1, Marcantonio, 2018 $29
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The golden veins of this Kintsugi-style drinking cup take center stage in this artistic design.

gold and blue phone case
Simple Luxe Kintsugi Ceramic Gold on Indigo Blue iPhone Case $36
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This trendy iPhone case, which offers a nod to traditional Kintsugi repair techniques, beautifully juxtaposes ancient traditions with 21st century technology.

red and gold bowl
Beautifully Broken KIA Kintsugi Repaired Planter $45
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If you want to incorporate the trend into your home, look no further than this ruby red planter, repaired using Kintsugi.

gold and white wallpaper
Graham & Brown Kintsugi Gold Wallpaper $65
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This ode to Kintsugi repair will add some metallic elegance—plus a subtle hint of history—to any space. 

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