My favourite cup of tea has to be Earl Grey, and in fact, I only ever drink Earl Grey, have done for some 20-years or so. You cannot have a more refined tasting cup of tea unless it’s in a fine bone china cup and saucer. For me, it’s the perfect combination, and it seems as though I’m not alone. Over the years, my favourite cup and saucers have been chipped or broken, only for me to find my new favourite and dispose of the broken ones. However, I have recently read about Kintsugi, which translates to:
Kin – Golden
Tsugi – Joinery
Kintsugi, also known as Kintsukuroi (more beautiful for having been broken) is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. Real gold isn’t used, and it’s the lacquer (gold, silver, copper) with a binding rice flour. It sounds simple, but nailing down that ratio is incredibly difficult. For some, repairs can take up to two months! People spend years learning this technique. It dates back to the Muromachi period, when the Shogun of Japan, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408) broke his favourite tea bowl and, distraught, sent it to be repaired in China. But on its return, he was horrified by the ugly metal staples that had been used to join the broken pieces and charged his craftsmen with devising a more appropriate solution. They came up with a method that didn’t disguise the damage but made something properly artful.
Kintsugi belongs to the Zen ideals of wabi-sabi, which cherishes what is simple, unpretentious and aged – especially if it has a rustic or weathered quality. A story is told of one of the great proponents of wabi-sabi, Sen no Rikyu (1522-99). On a journey through southern Japan, he was once invited to a dinner by a host who thought he would be impressed by an elaborate and expensive antique tea jar that he had bought from China. But Rikyu didn’t even notice this item and instead spent his time chatting, and admiring a branch swaying in the breeze outside. In despair at this lack of interest, once Rikyu had left, the devastated host smashed the jar to pieces and retired to his room. But the other guests more wisely gathered the fragments and stuck them together through kintsugi. When Rikyu next came to visit, the philosopher turned to the repaired jar and, with a knowing smile, exclaimed: ‘Now it is magnificent’.
Kintsugi teaches you that your broken places make you stronger and better than ever before. When you think you are broken, you can pick up the pieces, put them back together, and learn to embrace the cracks. Kintsugi teaches you that your broken places make you stronger and better than ever before with lacquer and gold; the object’s scars come to life. They become an ode to the passing of time, to imperfection.
Over the centuries, Zen masters argued that pots, cups and bowls that had become damaged shouldn’t simply be neglected or thrown away. They should continue to attract our respect and attention and be repaired with enormous care – this process symbolises a reconciliation with the flaws and accidents of time, reinforcing some big underlying themes of Zen.
“In Japanese history, we are tempted to conclude that there is no one who influenced the aesthetics of the Japanese more than Yoshimasa. This is the only but significant feature that makes up for the rule’s shortcomings. The worst in history General was the only General who left an eternal legacy for all Japanese (Donald Keane, Ashikaga and Ginkakuji, Chuko Bunko, 2008).
The repair teacup’s importance was implicitly evident as Shogun Yoshimasa Ashikaga is symbolised in a space called Dojinsai located in Toshodo (1485) of Jishuji Temple (Ginkakuji). The space of this 4 tatami mat half is the space that became the starting point of the tea room, and this space format such as the fixtures by rattan and shoji, the room with full tatami mats, the difference shelf and the floor decoration of the attached school, will be called the building of Shoin later. It is said that it has become the prototype of all the traditional architecture of today and the so-called “Japanese-style room”.