Kintsukuroi: Transforming Imperfections into Golden Artistry

What is Kintsukuroi?

kintsukuroi reparing
Kintsukuroi (Kintsugi)

Kintsukuroi is a traditional Japanese technique for repairing broken ceramics and porcelain using gold and lacquer. This technique is also called "kintsugi," and has been attracting attention around the world in recent years. The process of restoring broken pottery to new beauty is truly a rebirth of art. The style of treating things with care, rather than throwing them away when they break, embodies sustainable values and gives spiritual richness to our lives. This unique technique is connected to the aesthetic sense of Japanese culture and inspires admiration and respect.

History of Kintsukuroi: The Wabi-Sabi aesthetic began 500 years ago

The history of kintsukuroi is long, dating back to the Muromachi period (1336-1573), about 500 years ago. The Muromachi period is the time when Sen no Rikyu developed the tea ceremony into a major art form. It is believed that the technique of kintsukuroi was established along with the development of the tea ceremony, and the world view of kintsukuroi was built up. Tea utensils at that time were very expensive and highly valued, so it would have been difficult to throw them away immediately because they were broken. It is understandable that this technique, which uses lacquer and gold to restore a cracked or chipped container to its original state, became widely used. The technique of kintsukuroi has been handed down to the present day, and has spread as a technique for treating things with care and restoring vessels with memories.

Philosophy of kintsukuroi

The restoration marks after the gold repairing process do not pretend that there is no damage, but rather express the value of accepting the vessel as it is, as a vessel with a new value. There is a point where gold repair overlaps with life. Instead of restoring the same state as the past, we accept the present as it is and create new values for the future. It seems to me that you are teaching the importance of living for the future without getting caught up in the past.

The value of restoring broken things so that they can be used again symbolizes the "philosophy of valuing things" that the Japanese have cherished since ancient times. Even today, the Japanese use the word "mottainai" (meaning "it's a waste") to express the mindset of taking good care of things. It is a value that seems to be deeply rooted in the way people treat things with care: "It is a waste to leave food behind," "It is a waste to buy many pieces of clothes you never wear," "It is a waste to throw things away immediately because they are broken," and so on. I feel that the experience of kintsukuroi teaches us something important in our lives.

Cautions about kintsukuroi

Although kintsukuroi is very profound and gives us a sense of wabi-sabi, there are some cautions to be observed.

There is a possibility of getting a rash from the lacquer.

People who enjoy kintsugi should be aware of the possibility of lacquer-induced dermatitis. This inflammation, or lacquer rash (urushi dermatitis), is caused when the lacquer solution comes into contact with the skin and is caused by the main ingredient, urushiol. Symptoms include the appearance of itchy small blisters where the skin comes into contact with it, which can last from a few hours to a week. It is generally said to be most severe in a few days, after which it subsides and leaves no scarring in about ten days. However, symptoms vary from person to person; some people do not get a rash at all, while others get a severe rash. If itching occurs, avoid touching the lacquer and concentrate on healing.

Gold-plated vessels cannot be used in microwave ovens or dishwashers.

If you heat a gold-plated vessel in a microwave oven, the joints may become very hot and sparks may fly. In the worst case, the repaired part may crack again, so it is best to avoid using microwave ovens. It is also advisable to avoid using a dishwasher. The restored area is not as durable as a normal vessel, and machine washing involves the risk of damage due to the inability to adjust the load. If you want to use a vessel that has been repaired over time for a long time, it is basically important to treat it gently and carefully.

Take time to dry the gold-repaired vessels

If you use a vessel that has been repaired with gold immediately, it may break. This is because lacquer becomes stronger the longer it dries, but it is brittle if used before it is completely dry. Although we can sympathize with the desire to use the lacquer immediately, we recommend that you hold back and enjoy it as an ornamental object at first. Although the time required to complete the process varies according to the craftsman, it is said that it takes about 2~3 months for the process of repairing the lacquer and at least one month for the lacquer to dry and harden, so it is best to use this as a rough guide.

Kintsukuroi repairing process

Kintsukuroi is a profound technique, but even beginners can try it easily. It takes about one month to complete the process while the lacquer is drying, but the process of gradual restoration is fun, so please give it a try! Let me introduce the process.

1.Harden the chipped area with lacquer.

First, observe the characteristics of the damaged vessel. We first observe the broken vessel to see if there are any chips other than the ones that are obvious. Then, apply lacquer to the broken areas and wipe off the excess lacquer before it dries. After that, let it dry overnight.

2. Repair the damaged area with Ramie

Mix rice grains and lacquer in paste form, then add Ramie cotton and wood flour, in that order, and mix well to make Ramie. Apply the Ramie to the damaged area, shape it, and allow it to dry for about one week.

3. Apply rusty lacquer and form the details

After shaping the shape by sandpaper, Rust Urushi made by mixing abrasive powder and raw lacquer is applied. 4 or 5 days after drying, the surface of the joints and repaired areas are sharpened with sandpaper and the shape of the vessel is adjusted.

4. Apply red Urushi lacquer and sprinkle gold powder

Once the surface of the vessel is even, red lacquer is applied. After the lacquer has been applied evenly and thinly, allow it to dry for 3 or 4 days. If the lacquer is applied too thickly, it will drip or wrinkle, so the key is to apply a thin coat. To finish, sprinkle gold dust evenly over the red lacquer and allow it to dry. After the gold powder dries, apply lacquer again to harden the gold powder and let it dry to complete the process!

Please see the Youtube video for the specific method.

Materials that can and cannot be gold-plated

Materials that are easy to repair with gold

Pottery and porcelain are materials that are easily repaired with gold. In particular, glazed vessels are recommended for beginners because they are easy to wipe off and remove. If you have broken a valuable vessel, it is a good idea to try to repair it by gold repair.

Materials that are difficult to repair

Glass, wood, and plastic are difficult to repair. It is said to be so difficult that some professional craftsmen do not accept restoration. The reason for this is that glass is difficult to adhere using lacquer. It would be useful to have lacquer for glass, but it is good to be aware of the high degree of difficulty.

Introducing three Japanese artists of gold mending

Tomomi Kamoshita

tomomi kamoshita

Tomomi Kamoshita began creating contemporary kintsugi works out of a desire to "make use of damaged vessels. She has exhibited in New York and Paris, and is expanding her activities around the world. Her contemporary interpretation of the traditional technique of kintsugi attracts many people.

Yaku Nakano


Taku Nakano is a ceramic artist and kintsugi artist with a studio in Omotesando, Tokyo. Originally a company employee, he became a ceramic artist at the age of 36, and since then his flexible and free works created from his unique perspective have been highly acclaimed. She also actively teaches ceramics and holds workshops.

Yukako Tanaka

yukako tanaka

Yukako Tanaka is a ceramic artist and kintsugi (metal-joining) master. She has developed a technique called "modern kintsugi," which is a sustainable, modern version of the traditional kintsugi technique. While the traditional restoration technique of kintsugi uses the natural materials urushi and gold, modern kintsugi follows this tradition and uses a hybrid chemical solvent called "new lacquer. It is easy to handle and does not cause rashes, and the gold powder is non-metallic, making it safe for people with metal allergies.