Kintsugi (golden joinery) is a distinctively Japanese technique of restoring broken pottery and ceramics using urushi (lacquer) with metallic powders to give the appearance of gold and silver lining where the cracks once were.
The original technique has been meticulously preserved for centuries to prolong the life of ornate pottery pieces. Nowadays, kintsugi is a widely available and trendy hobby enjoyed on your own or with the help of guidance from a master at a workshop or class in Japan.
Moreover, it’s pretty easy hobby to pick up, so here’s everything you need to know to start the timeless Japanese art of kintsugi.
What is kintsugi?
The decorated scars on the piece of kintsugi pottery are thought of as scenery; rather than pretending that the scars do not exist or trying to conceal them, they are accepted as part of the piece’s history and thus are renewed in new harmony.
Kintsugi has been practiced since the Muromachi era (1336–1573). During this time, tea ceremonies were part of everyday life and were an essential aspect of all formal meetings and rituals in Japanese feudal life. The tea sets themselves were each very ornate and one of a kind. Accordingly, this meant that the pieces were extremely expensive and irreplaceable, causing many Japanese people to choose to repair their pieces rather than throw them away.
The pieces were far too precious just to be put back together with dull resins, so more aesthetic means of repair had to be considered. Hence, kintsugi became a widely practiced artform thereafter, synonymous with the Japanese notion of wabi-sabi and mottainai (roughly: waste not, want not).
Tools you’ll need
Kintsugi is simple to start. In Japan, you can find these items in most department stores. If you are not in Japan, fear not, as there are plenty of kintsugi sets available on the U.S., Australia and U.K. Amazon marketplaces, too. To get into the craft, you’ll need the following:
- Gold powder and silver powder
- Epoxy putty and urushi
- Fine brush
- A broken ceramic (your old, trusted Daiso mug will do)
- Plastic spatula or flat sticks
- Thin, rubber gloves
- Cotton swabs
- A hammer (for breaking your ceramic)
- Sandpaper and something to protect your work surface (e.g., newspaper)
You can find all of the above and more in this handy set.
Let’s get started
There are many techniques online, but here is a very simple one for kintsugi first-timers:
- Wrap your ceramic in a towel, bag or several layers of newspaper and gently tap it with a hammer until it’s broken. Use precaution when breaking ceramics to avoid injury.
- Start by mixing the gold or silver powder with the epoxy putty. Then, lightly sand down your breakages to make reassembly easier.
- Add the mixture to the edges of your broken piece. Use the wooden sticks and spatula to scrape off the excess putty for a neater look—dab with cotton buds to clear off the excess powder.
- Reattach the broken piece to the ceramic, then press the pieces together (with reason, it is a ceramic) until the putty dries out and hardens.
- Do this with each broken-off segment, one at a time, until your kintsugi masterpiece is complete.
- BONUS: if you feel adventurous, you can decorate your work with maki-e (lacquer decoration) by painting your pattern in resin and then sprinkling the metallic powder over your design. Finally, thinly coat it in resin to hold your handiwork.
See? Easy! Although the putty dries fast, kintsugi requires patience to ensure you get the results you want.
Where to experience kintsugi
Kintsugi classes are widely available all over Japan. Several workshops also have resources and instructions in English to allow foreigners to enjoy the artform themselves.
- Atelier hifumi: Run by the Japanese craft maestro Mio Heko, this workshop is ideal for people in Tokyo.
- Urujyu: The go-to vendors for exchange student events at Kyoto University, this store has strong expertise in offering an accessible service to foreigners. Online kits are also available.
- Kiyokawa Lacquer Arts: Premium experience with an educational presentation about the history of kintsugi, a workshop and gift wrapping.
- Yacca: With a company ethos of “nothing is unbreakable,” this studio has served Fukuoka’s international and local community for years.
- Hakatashitsugei: A beautiful studio in Fukuoka’s business and government district, Daimyo. The local conventions and visitor’s bureau offers to handle reservations in English.
Not in Japan or nowhere near a workshop? No problem. Check out these online kintsugi courses available in English:
- Tsugu-Tsugu: Traditional Kintsugi Online Workshop Ticket
- Domestika: Introduction to Kintsugi: Repair Your Pottery with Gold
Have you done kintsugi before? What do you think—easy, right? Tell us about your favorite Japanese craft in the comments!