Ken and Michie - Jun 17 2023
Revolution of Kintsugi:
Exploring Japan's Artistic Past
From our previous dive into the origins of Kintsugi, we now embark on a fascinating journey to trace its revolutions through time. Join us as we travel back in time to the golden era of Kintsugi and explore the remarkable revolution and enduring beauty of this timeless art form.
The Last Days of Sen no Rikyu
As described in the first blog, Sen no Rikyu, along with such powerful figures as Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) and especially Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598), succeeded in establishing the uniquely Japanese concept of "wabi-sabi" as a response to imported Chinese culture. Toyotomi Hideyoshi is credited with unifying Japan, which had been in a state of civil war since the fall of the Muromachi shogunate. On the other hand, in 1591, Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered Sen no Rikyu, who had been walking with him, to commit seppuku (ritual suicide). There are many theories as to why, but many points remain unclear. What is clear is that Sen no Rikyu and Toyotomi Hideyoshi did not get along. To spread one's sense of beauty to the world, it is essential to have the patronage of the most powerful person. However, it is also true that Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Sen no Rikyu's sense of beauty did not match at all, especially the Golden Tea Room, where Toyotomi Hideyoshi is said to have held tea ceremonies, was incompatible with Sen no Rikyu's sense of beauty.
Photo credit: Saga Prefectural Nagoya Castle Museum | Golden Tea Room (Restored one) https://saga-museum.jp/nagoya/exhibition/permanent/golden-tea-room.html
Incidentally, the original Golden Tea Room is said to have been destroyed by fire during the Osaka Summer War (1614-1615), a battle between the Toyotomi side and the Tokugawa Shogunate, which ruled Japan for a long time after the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and does not exist today. From this point on, we can only speculate, but Sen no Rikyu believed in the spirit of "Ichigo-Ichie," or the idea of treasuring each tea ceremony as a once-in-a-lifetime event, since in the age of war, no one knows if they will ever meet again, and no one can live forever. On the other hand, gold, favored by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, symbolizes eternity because it does not corrode. There is a big difference between the ideals of once-in-a-lifetime and eternity. Sen no Rikyu undoubtedly realized this, and while he cooperated with the highest authorities to make his sense of beauty great, he must also have known that its limits would one day come.
After Sen no Rikyu: The Growing Value of Kintsugi Itself
Sen no Rikyu's position was filled after his death by a man named Furuta Oribe (1544-1615). While a student of Sen no Rikyu, Furuta Oribe left behind many original vessels that were leapt beyond the concept of wabi-sabi. Although Furuta Oribe was not a craftsman himself, he left behind works that he had made by craftsmen in Mino (present-day Gifu Prefecture, Japan) after communicating his intentions to them. These pieces are known as Oribe ware and caused a huge boom in Kyoto at that time. Furuta Oribe was called "hyoge-mono". Hyoge-mono" means "joking person". Based on his own aesthetic sense, Furuta Oribe changed the concept of tea bowls.
Photo credit: The Meusium of Furuta Oribe | Black Oribe Rokuhamon Tea bowl | https://www.kyoto-museums.jp/museum/north/1013/
Here is a kintsugi work said to have been made by Furuta Oribe. Since no gold is used, this work is called an "urushi-tsugi" (joined with lacquer) piece. It is said that Furuta Oribe intentionally divided the vessel into cross-shaped pieces to make it smaller, and joined them together with urushi because of its large size and distorted shape. The fact that the bowl was intentionally broken and joined with urushi is a point of great surprise. It is said that Oribe intentionally broke undamaged tea bowls and repaired them with kintsugi, and these bowls most strongly reflect his philosophy. Regardless of the evaluation of the intentional breaking of the bowl, the fact that Furuta Oribe brought new value to the original bowl through kintsugi and considered kintsugi an art form rather than a mere restoration technique was advanced at the time.
Photo credit: Mitsui Memorial Museum | Oido Tea Bowl named "Syumi" | https://www.mitsui-museum.jp/
Later, in the Edo period, the most famous kintsugi works appeared. It is called "Seppou (Snow Peak)" by Koetsu HONAMI. Koetsu HONAMI was a multi-talented artist who worked in Kyoto from the reign of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Azuchi-Momoyama period) to the Edo period (1603-1868), leaving behind a wide variety of works in calligraphy, ceramics, publishing and handicrafts. This red raku tea bowl is slightly thicker overall and has a thick, large fire crack from the rim, which appears to be held inward, to the body and foot. The crack has been repaired by kintsugi, and this part is very noticeable. It is said that Koetsu himself inscribed "Seppou" on this piece by comparing the white glaze that runs down from one rim to the body to white snow falling on a mountain ridge, and the cracks that appeared during firing to a mountain stream of melting snow. Normally, vessels with such cracks in the firing process are considered defective. From the story of how the vessel was revived by kintsugi, which made this vessel unique, this piece can be said to be a direct ancestor of the kintsugi pieces in The Kintsugi Labo JAPAN.
Photo credit: Hatakeyama Memorial Museum of Fine Art | Important Cultural Properties | Red Raku Tea Bowl named Seppou | https://www.ebara.co.jp/
Kintsugi's Golden Revolution: Tracing the Art Form's Progress Through Time
As described above, kintsugi, which was originally a technique for repairing vessels, has evolved into a craft in its own right.
Kintsugi is a very time-consuming and labor-intensive craft, but at a time when the value of a vessel was considered equal to that of a castle, traces of kintsugi on expensive and valuable vessels can still be seen in many museums today.
As we approach the present day, kintsugi itself is being treated as a philosophy in its own right. In the next Journal we will discuss the philosophy of kintsugi. Please stay tuned!