Ken and Michie - Jun 06  2023

The Origins of Kintsugi:
How This Japanese Art Form Came to Be

Authentic Kintsugi tea bowl

The essence of kintsugi cannot be understood just by looking at a kintsugi piece. The background of the period in which kintsugi was born, its cultural ideology, and its contrast with the cultures of other countries will reveal its origins.

The Origin of repairing broken vessels in Japan

The conventional technique of kintsugi has its origins in the repair of broken pottery using the sap of the lacquer tree. The lacquer tree is believed to have existed at the beginning of the Jomon period (about 12,600 years ago), and its very existence provides a glimpse of ancient life. Around 7,500 years ago, various products were made from the sap of the lacquer tree (hereafter referred to as urushi). This suggests that the urushi was widely used in people's daily lives and became a part of everyday life. A specific example of broken vessels actually joined with urushi was discovered at the Shimoyakebe Ruins in northern Tokyo about 4,000 years ago. It is believed that the technique of repairing broken pieces with urushi was common even before that time, but its presence is difficult to verify because urushi decomposes underground unless it is in a swamp-like environment where it is shielded from oxygen, making verification difficult.

Enlargement of a part that is joined twice

Article credit: CHIBA Toshiro, Lacquerwork Techniques Found in the Shimo-yakebe Site, Bulletin of the National Museum of Japanese History 187 217-233, 2014-07

Repair with urushi often involves mixing in plant fibers, soil, and fine sand, a formulation similar to the kokuso urushi found in traditional lacquer craft techniques. Urushi has strong properties as a natural adhesive and also acts as a coating material with a beautiful sheen. However, its extraction work is time-consuming and labor intensive, and it can also cause skin rashes when touched. It is noteworthy that in the Jomon period people liked to use red urushi. If they were only concerned with functionality, there would be no need to add color. However, the reason for the preference for red color is thought to be influenced by the fact that people's lives had become more settled at that time, and a rich culinary and sophisticated culture had developed. This suggests that the beauty of the color was also one of the reasons why people used urushi.

Ancient Red lacquer ware

Article credit: CHIBA Toshiro, Lacquerwork Techniques Found in the Shimo-yakebe Site, Bulletin of the National Museum of Japanese History 187 217-233, 2014-07

How did today's Kintsugi come about?

The direct trace of the kintsugi technique as we know it today dates back to the reign of Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436-1490), the eighth shogun of the Muromachi Shogunate. The Muromachi Shogunate left behind many magnificent buildings during its reign, most notably the magnificent gold and urushi temple, Rokuonji-temple Kinkaku, built by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408), the third shogun.

Rokuonji-temple Kinkaku

Article credit: Rokuonji-temple Kinkaku, https://www.shokoku-ji.jp/en/kinkakuji/gallery/

Yoshimasa's reign was marked by a major civil war, the Onin War, which took place in Kyoto. Despite the turmoil, Yoshimasa's love of the arts kept him away from politics, and he devoted himself to architecture, calligraphy, painting, the tea ceremony, and flower arranging. His life in his villa in the Higashiyama area of Kyoto was extremely elegant, and during this period a wide variety of arts developed with a quiet and a profound sense of beauty under the influence of Zen Buddhism. This is the "Higashiyama culture". A representative architecture is the Jishoji-temple Ginkaku.

Rokuonji-temple Kinkaku

Article credit: Jishoji-temple Ginkaku, https://www.shokoku-ji.jp/en/ginkakuji/about/

The famous story is told that while Yoshimasa was using the tea bowl, it cracked at the bottom, so he sent it to China to exchange it for another of the same quality. However, there was no such fine piece in China at that time, and the cracks were fixed with a clamp and sent back to him. The fact that this tea bowl was beaten with a large locust-like clamp further enhanced its reputation and it was named "Bakohan". It is said that the value of this bowl was further enhanced by the repair of a flaw in the tea bowl, which is said to have been the origin of modern kintsugi. The technique of kintsugi, which symbolizes the rebirth and repair of beauty, is based on Ashikaga Yoshimasa's sense of beauty and the spirituality of Zen Buddhism, which emphasizes serenity and profundity. This "Bakohan" is now in the collection of the Tokyo National Museum as an important cultural object. Kintsugi today can be described as an art form that appreciates imperfection, and we can see its origins in "Bakohan".

Article credit: Celadon porcelain bowl, named Bakōhan, https://emuseum.nich.go.jp

How does the spirit of Wabi-Sabi relate to Kintsugi?

As described above, at the end of the Muromachi shogunate, a spirituality that valued tranquility and profundity flourished. On the other hand, most of the masterpieces were imported from China, known as "Karamono = Chinese things". As the Muromachi period drew to a close, Japan entered the Warring States period, in which powerful individuals from various regions vied to unify the nation.
The rulers of warring states justified their rule by distributing the land they conquered to their vassals. However, a problem arose when the land to be distributed became scarce.
Under these circumstances, Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) made a revolutionary change in values. He decided to treat tea utensils as expensive, as a tea bowl was worth as much as a castle. This made it possible to give bounties to his subordinates regardless of land or castle.
Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591) provided theoretical support for this new value system. Born into a family of merchants in Osaka, Sen no Rikyu became a great master of the tea ceremony. His special focus was not on "karamono" but on establishing a uniquely Japanese sense of beauty. This is called "Wa = Japanese things". Sen no Rikyu further enhanced the value of Japanese things, which had already been advocated by Murata Shuko, and created "wabicha," the pursuit of a simple and quiet aesthetic. This was Japan's own counterculture to China, and Sen no Rikyu, together with the authorities of the time, succeeded in establishing it as a major one. In other words, "wabi-sabi" is the antithesis of Chinese perfection, and is a uniquely Japanese value system that finds beauty in imperfection. This value system has also greatly influenced the recognition of the value of kintsugi.

Rokuonji-temple Kinkaku

Article credit: Kurorakuchawan(shunkan)〈chojirosaku〉, https://bunka.nii.ac.jp/heritages/detail/166215

Discover Kintsugi: A Journey into the Heart of Celebrated Imperfection

By learning about the deep spirituality of kintsugi in the context of its history and culture, we believe you will better understand the value of our authentic kintsugi pieces. We offer the essence of kintsugi to meet the academic needs of educational institutions and museums. We hope that you too will experience the timeless beauty that reminds you of ancient times with our Kintsugi pieces.

Shop now for timeless beauty!

Sold Out - Authentic Japanese Kintsugi Bowl: Wabi-Sabi Elegance in Golden repairs
Photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece being used in a real-world setting
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Photo of the bottom side of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing its overall design and features
Photo of the bottom side of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing its overall design and features
Photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece with a text overlay indicating the size of the piece
Sold Out - Authentic Japanese Kintsugi Bowl: Wabi-Sabi Elegance in Golden repairs
Photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece being used in a real-world setting
Video of a skilled Japanese craftsman restoring a broken pottery using the traditional Kintsugi technique
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Photo of the bottom side of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing its overall design and features
Photo of the bottom side of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing its overall design and features
Photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece with a text overlay indicating the size of the piece
Rotating video of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, allowing viewers to see the piece from all angles
Sold Out - Authentic Japanese Kintsugi Bowl: Wabi-Sabi Elegance in Golden repairs
Photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece being used in a real-world setting
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Photo of the top side of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing its overall design and features
Photo of the bottom side of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing its overall design and features
Photo of the top side of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing its overall design and features
Photo of the bottom side of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing its overall design and features
Photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece with a text overlay indicating the size of the piece
Sold Out - Authentic Japanese Kintsugi Bowl: Wabi-Sabi Elegance in Golden repairs
Photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece being used in a real-world setting
Video of a skilled Japanese craftsman restoring a broken pottery using the traditional Kintsugi technique
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Photo of the top side of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing its overall design and features
Photo of the bottom side of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing its overall design and features
Photo of the top side of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing its overall design and features
Photo of the bottom side of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing its overall design and features
Photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece with a text overlay indicating the size of the piece
Rotating video of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, allowing viewers to see the piece from all angles
Full-color image of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing its intricate repairs and unique design
Photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece being used in a real-world setting,
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Photo of the top side of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing its overall design and features
Photo of the bottom side of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing its overall design and features
Photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece with a text overlay indicating the size of the piece
Full-color image of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing its intricate repairs and unique design
Photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece being used in a real-world setting,
Video of a skilled Japanese craftsman restoring a broken pottery using the traditional Kintsugi technique
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Close-up photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing the detail of its repairs and craftsmanship
Photo of the top side of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing its overall design and features
Photo of the bottom side of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, showing its overall design and features
Photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece with a text overlay indicating the size of the piece
A 3D photo of an authentic Kintsugi pottery, allowing viewers to see the piece from all angles
Rotating video of an authentic Kintsugi pottery piece, allowing viewers to see the piece from all angles

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