Most people do not deliberately break their expensive pieces of pottery, but this is not always the case in Japanese culture. Adorning broken ceramics with a lacquer mixed with powdered gold is part of a more than 500-year-old Japanese tradition that highlights imperfections rather than hiding them. It doesn’t just teach calm when a piece of precious pottery breaks; it is also a reminder of the beauty of human fragility.
In a world that so often values youth, perfection and excess, embracing the old and the beaten can seem odd. But the practice of the 15th century kintsugi, which means ‘join in the gold’, is a reminder to stay optimistic when the going gets tough and to celebrate life’s flaws and missteps.
The kintsugi technique is an extension of the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, who sees beauty in the incomplete and value in simplicity. Golden restoration of broken pieces typically takes up to three months, as the fragments are carefully glued with the sap of a native Japanese tree, allowed to dry for a few weeks, and then adorned with gold along its cracks.
In an age of mass production and rapid elimination, learning to accept and celebrate scars and flaws is a powerful lesson in humanity and sustainability.
(Video by Terushi Sho, text by Yasmin El-Beih)
This video is part of BBC Reel’s Ultimate Japan playlist.
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