Art Key 2: Altered Perceptions

Kintsugi-The Japanese Art of Honoring Brokenness in People and Things


Kintsugi is a 500-year old Japanese tradition of taking a broken object and restoring it by filling in its cracks with gold. What better way to kick off our look at Enchanted Key #2-Altered Perceptions? Kintsugi means “golden joinery,” referring to the method of restoration. The veins of gold run across a broken piece of pottery. The spiritual belief is that the gold honors the history of the piece. It’s not about seamlessly hiding the cracks, but respecting and highlighting what the piece has endured. It also suggests that there’s an integration of the wounding or scarring of the object, with its new life.



The process uses urushi lacquer, rather than glue, to join the broken pieces together. The lacquer may need to be applied in several layers, before it hardens, is cut back with charcoal, and then polished. The top lacquer is most often mixed with metallic gold, but sometimes, silver or platinum is used.


In Western society, there are artists who upcycle and repurpose broken items in their art. The majority of Westerners view something broken as devalued and so they discard it. Not so in Japanese culture. I’ve written about the philosophy of Wabi-Sabi before. It’s also a Japanese perspective of finding beauty in old or broken things.


Muneaki Shimode is a 29-year old young man who lives in Kyoto, Japan, and carries on the tradition of his family as a Kintsugi craftsman. At the age of 27, he was the youngest Kintsugi craftsman in Kyoto. Shimode believes that most people his age are interested in chasing professions that bring them financial wealth as opposed to spiritual abundance. Shimode’s father, and I believe his father as well, were Kintsugi craftsmen. Although his father has passed on, Shimode speaks of learning from him, still. Shimode refers to himself as The Third Bison craftsman.


Shimode possess such wisdom about and reverence for the process. He believes that, “It’s one beautiful way of living, that you fix your dish by yourself.” He is honored, however, to be called upon to fix someone else’s piece. It’s fascinating to me that the beauty of the restored piece is considered less important than the impact on the person who is viewing it.


In researching the information for this post, I ran across some body artists who paint and/or tattoo scars to highlight the story of a person’s experiences.


What a spiritual practice it would be for humankind to honor our own and each others’ wounds and broken parts with reverence and respect.

Photo credit: Elea Davison

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