traditional modern kintsugi

Traditional Kintsugi or Modern Kintsugi: Which Repair Style Suits You Best?

What is Kintsugi?

Kintsugi is a traditional Japanese technique for restoring broken ceramics and porcelain that has been used since the Muromachi period (1336-1573), about 400 years ago. This technique of restoration using natural lacquer, gold and silver powders spread with the development of the tea ceremony. Originally, many of the tea utensils used in the tea ceremony were expensive and could not be easily discarded because of breakage. Kintsugi was established to repair broken vessels, and today it is popular all over the world based on the value of "taking good care of things. Kintsugi is mainly enjoyed in two ways: traditional kintsugi and modern kintsugi.

What is the difference between the two techniques?

The main differences between traditional and modern kintsugi are "materials", "time required for completion", and "food safety". Since the different materials used for restoration change the time required to complete the process and the safety to the body, it is advisable to use different techniques depending on the purpose of use and the type of vessel.

Traditional kintsugi

The material used is natural lacquer or real gold to join vessels. Once the lacquer hardens, it is very durable and the cup or dish can be used as it was used before. The beauty of a vessel that has been cared for by the traditional kintsugi process is different from that of its predecessor, making everyday meals and tea time a very rich experience. Incidentally, because natural lacquer is used, it is safe for food. 400 years have passed since this technique was developed, and if it had any adverse effects on the human body, its history would have changed somewhere, right? It would not be an exaggeration to say that its safety is proven by its history.

On the other hand, traditional kintsugi, which uses natural lacquer, is characterized by the long time it takes to complete. Lacquer has the property of hardening at 70~80% humidity and 25~30℃. This is because the enzyme (laccase) in the lacquer reacts with the oxygen in the water, causing the urushiol in the lacquer to change from a liquid to a solid. Since climatic conditions vary from region to region regarding these specific conditions, tools called "urushifuro" or "urushimuro" can be used to create this environment, which facilitates the hardening of the lacquer. This can be done by hanging a damp cloth inside a chamber made of wood or cardboard and adjusting the humidity.

Modern Kintsugi

Modern kintsugi uses a synthetic glue based on epoxy resin. Despite the name "kintsugi," no natural materials are actually used. Some finishing methods sprinkle gold powder instead of real gold as a substitute, but since it is only an adhesive, it is not food safe. Please do not use glue to join dishes when restoring them.

On the other hand, because synthetic adhesives are used, the time to completion is very short. Some modern kintsugi use a mixture of synthetic adhesives to glue the pieces together and natural lacquer and real gold for the surface coating. This method is a good combination of natural lacquer and synthetic glue, but it is basically recommended to avoid using it as tableware.

Advantages and Disadvantage of traditional kintsugi

We have described two types of methods so far, and we have summarized the advantages and disadvantages of each. We will also provide recommendations for those who are considering using these methods.

Advantages of Traditional Kintsugi

  • Experience traditional culture and value
  • Can be used for everyday tableware because it is FOOD SAFE
  • You can create your own original work of art.
  • Beautiful appearance after completion
  • You can enjoy the process of completion.
  • Environmentally friendly because it is made of natural materials

Disadvantages of traditional Kintsugi

  • It takes time for the lacquer to dry.
  • There are optimum conditions for temperature and humidity to dry the lacquer.
  • There is a possibility of lacquer rash.
  • Repair kit is more expensive than modern kintsugi.
  • It takes time to fully master the technique.

For those who take time to enjoy the traditional value

Traditional kintsugi is very deep. It can be said that it takes a long time to fully master the technique, as the results vary depending on the materials used, tools, climate, and other factors. However, the process of repairing vessels using techniques that have been cultivated over many years is extremely gratifying and leads to spiritual enrichment. It is a process that is worth taking the time to enjoy.

Advantages and Disadvantage of modern kintsugi

The following is a summary of the advantages and disadvantages of modern kintsugi.

Advantages of modern kintsugi

  • Quick drying due to synthetic glue.
  • Can be enjoyed with tools from home centers.
  • No risk of lacquer rash.
  • Repair kits are cheaper than traditional kintsugi.
  • There are methods that use natural lacquer or real gold in the process.
  • There is no problem to use it on vessels for appreciation.

Disadvantages of modern Kintsugi

  • The material is not food safe.
  • Cannot be used for cups and dishes.
  • Chemical smell in the restoration area.
  • The texture and beauty of natural lacquer may not be felt.
  • The lacquer may break after a long period of time.

For those who want to try it simply

Modern kintsugi can be said to be recommended for those who want to try it for the first time or for those who want to start casually. Compared to natural lacquer, it is easier to handle and less prone to failure, so the hurdle is lower. On the other hand, as mentioned in the disadvantages, kintsugi cannot be used (and is not recommended) on tableware that is to be put in the mouth, so it can be used without problems on plates and vases for appreciation. Some people claim that there is no problem when eating or drinking on tableware that has been gold-jointed with synthetic adhesives made from epoxy resin, but this media does not recommend it. The following article suggests that bisphenol A (BPA), a substance contained in epoxy resin, may be harmful to the human body. Use with caution.

Therefore, BPA has been shown to play a role in the pathogenesis of several endocrine disorders including female and male infertility, precocious puberty, hormone dependent tumours such as breast and prostate cancer and several metabolic disorders including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Because of the constant, daily exposure and its tendency to bio-accumulation, BPA seems to require special attention such as biomonitoring.


After kintsugi is performed, precautions should be taken

We hope you are now familiar with the advantages and disadvantages of the two types of kintsugi, traditional and modern. What both methods have in common is that they have not completely returned to the original vessels. If not used carefully after the entire process is completed, the kintsugi vessel may be damaged. Therefore, please handle your kintsugi vessels with the following three points in mind.

Do not use an open flame or microwave oven.

Kintsugi restored vessels are extremely delicate. The durability of the original vessel has not been fully restored. The joints are not very durable, so heating the vessel over an open flame may cause the vessel to fall apart. Similarly, please refrain from using microwave ovens, as they can break the restored vessels and cause sparks to fly when gold reacts with them.

Do not soak in water for a long time

Prolonged soaking in water can damage vessels. Be careful not to leave dishes soaking in the kitchen, as it will make the vessels more fragile. Similarly, vases and flowerpots should be avoided, as filling them with water or moist soil will damage the vessels. If used as a vase, we recommend pointing dried flowers or decorating it as an interior decoration.

Handle gently when washing

When washing a kintsugi vessel, please wash it gently and carefully. If you use a dishwasher or a dish dryer, the vessel may be damaged by detergent or strong washing water. Some people say, "I accidentally used them..." It is a good idea to talk to your roommate about this as well. It is a good idea to rinse the bowl quickly with water and clean it with a sponge after use.

Traditional and modern kintsugi can coexist

There are some who argue that synthetic glue cannot be called "kintsugi" or "fake," but both techniques have the same meaning of "repairing broken vessels" and "taking good care of things. There is no correct answer to either one or the other. Those who want to try kintsugi as a simple method may start with modern kintsugi, while those who want to experience Japanese culture in earnest may enjoy kintsugi using the traditional method. We hope that more people will enjoy kintsugi in both ways. In either method, let's experience and enjoy the traditional Japanese mindset of apology and Zen through these kintsugi.