KINTSUGI

photo: Shitsugeisha Heiando

Kintsugi

Giving the Broken Pottery a Second Life

Kintsugi is the traditional Japanese technique of restoring broken pieces of pottery with a Japanese Lacquer (Urushi) and gold. This gives the pottery a second life and creates a great piece of work.

The concept of embracing broken things and recreating value—not only fixing, but also putting souls of a potter and a user into them and reusing them—is common to SDGs and has recently attracted attention.


On October 7, I visited the Kintsugi Setagaya Class at the former residence of Yanagisawa in Setagaya to learn about Kintsugi. The residence is located in a large greenery park, and the class was held in a comfortable sun-filled room. Three students were engaged in Kintsugi under the guidance of Kiyokawa-Sensei (restorer) . Jazz was playing in the background. The class started at 10:00 am and concluded at 4:00 pm with lunch in between.

Watanabe-san who is in charge of Kanto area kindly explained about Kintsugi on the day of my visit.

Muro

photo: Shitsugeisha Heiando

photo: Shitsugeisha Heiando

Shitsugeisha Heiando




Setagaya Class

1-26-2 Ohara, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 〒156-0041

“Former Yanagisawa Residence”

6 min. walk from Daitabashi Station on Keio Line.

There are classes in Kyoto and Ochanomizu, Tokyo.

Authentic Kintsugi Instruction by Master Kiyokawa

Hiroki Kiyokawa-san, a restorer, has been engaged in preserving Japanese traditional cultural assets for many years. He started the class with the intention of transferring the Japanese traditional technique and craftmanship—that had been established during the Edo period and nurtured within our daily living since then—to younger generations. Consequently, they only use Lacquer and natural materials produced in Japan to provide an authentic Kintsugi technique in the class.

As a consequence of increased interest, there has been a simultaneous increase in cheaper and quicker Kintsugi techniques—the use of synthetic adhesives. There are many other schools where they use synthetic adhesives instead of genuine Urushi.

What is Japanese Lacquer?

Lacquer has the distinction of being waterproof, antiseptic, and durable.

Urushiol and Laccase—which are contained in Lacquer—hardens by absorbing moisture.

Lacquer hardens at approximately 70–75% humidity, around 25. Lacquer dries well during the rainy season, while in winter, when the air is dry and the temperature is low, Lacquer does not dry. Therefore, they must place the broken pottery in a Muro to complete the process.

What is a Muro?

A Muro is a tailor-made Japanese cedar box for drying pottery in the process of Kintsugi. Japanese cedars—grown only in Japan—have a strong control of humidity creating a suitable environment for hardening Urushi. Cedars absorb moisture during the dump season, and evaporate moisture in the dry season. They must control the temperature and humidity in the Muro by placing an incandescent lamp or mist with water.

The Process of Kintsugi Works

Watanabe-san explained the basic process of Kintsugi works. The techniques of Kintsugi are extensive. They depend on the cracking level, the owner’s requests, and materials. Here is a simple time line of the process.

1. First, the intentions for the final design must be considered. Kintsugi is not a simple restoration. Energy, thoughtfulness, and intelligence are required to produce the desired results. In addition, the final results should be considered in coordination with the pottery design.

2. The cracked pieces are glued back together with Glue Lacquer.

Glue Lacquer (Noriurushi) is made by mixing Raw Lacquer (Kiurushi) and non-glutinous rice powder (Joshinko) at the ratio of 1:1. The cracked parts are subsequently glued back together with the Glue Lacquer and fixed with tape.

Using barley—instead of Joshinko—could be a choice. They must be dried in Muro for 3 to 7 days.

3. The cracked parts are filled with Pate (Sabiurushi).

Pate (Sabiurushi) is made by mixing Raw Lacquer and clay powder (Tonoko). The Pate is then used to fill the cracks and small spaces to make it harder.

When the Sabiurushi dries, the surface is smoothed with waterproof paper in water.

4. Applying black Lacquer (Kurourushi).

Black Lacquer (Kurourushi)—which contains ferric-oxide—is applied twice to increase the water resistance so that they can be washed in water.

5. The application of Bengara Urushi and the spreading of Gold powder.

Bengara Urushi is a half-translucent Lacquer. Gold powder is spread on the Bengara Urushi before the Lacquer dries to further increase durability and beauty. The paint is subsequently left to dry.

Note:

l The sap of Urushi (that can be extracted from the tree) is approximately 200g.

l The majority of the Urushi in the market are made in China or Vietnam. The Japanese produced Urushi account for only 2%, however, it is durable and has a better complexion.

l The Lacquer, when half dried, is an irritant to the skin.

l The process of drying Urushi takes time. You cannot proceed to the next step if the Urushi is not completely dry.

l Heian-do do not use flour for making glue, because it could contain antiseptic.

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I was impressed with the concept of embracing imperfect objects and transforming them into valuable items. This holds valuable lessons for our lives.

The Kintsugi technique represents the Japanese aesthetic value, the embracing of the flawed or the imperfect—a generous compassion and wisdom for life.

I empathize with the use of Japanese produced materials, and supporting Japanese artisans to transfer our traditional techniques to the next generation.

Why don’t you experience the Kintsugi to learn both craftmanship and a true appreciation for the Kintsugi philosophy?

October 7, 2021