If you missed our last post, kintsugi is a traditional craft known in the West as “golden joinery.” It involves carefully mending broken pottery with many layers of lacquer and a dusting of gold, which highlights the cracks rather than camouflaging them. See Kintsugi–the Japanese Art of Repair, to learn how it’s done, a little of its history, and how you can try it yourself.
Kintsugi is a repair method, but it is also an art form, and for the some, a philosophy.
It symbolizes many paradoxes–fragility and strength, brokenness and beauty, frugality and extravagance. It is a visible expression of the Japanese “kokoro,” 心 (こころ) heart, character, or mindset.
We at Wafuu are somewhat insiders, somewhat outsiders when it comes to the Japanese kokoro–which perhaps gives us the best vantage point for observing the many characteristics displayed in kintsugi, such as: frugality, resilience, spontaneity, love of impermanence and imperfection, and the desire to find one’s life purpose. If you have Japanese friends, Japanese relatives, or if you simply want to look at the world from another angle, read on to see what we find intriguing about the kintsugi character!
Mottainai means, “What a waste!” Thanks to the idea of “mottainai,” Japan boasts highly-developed recycling and waste disposal systems and a world-famous “zero-waste” town (Kamikatsu). Nothing is wasted, and everything has a use.
If you have ever been to a Japanese “viking,” or all-you-can-eat buffet, you might have been surprised that instead of piling their plates as high as they can, Japanese (generally) select a few of the best-looking dishes and savor them to the max. Small, insignificant, or even broken things can be treasures.
Your turn! We are living in an increasingly disposable world. First world “minimalism” as well as the coronavirus ask us to “throw away” rather than “keep.” While it might be necessary to toss some things, be it a container, an old sweater, or a broken dish, why not pause to say, “Mottainai!” on the way to the trash can, and give yourself time to think about how you could turn it into something useful?
我慢 (がまん) “gaman”
頑張る (がんばる) ganbaru
Japanese are, by nature, a resilient people. They are very good at doing “gaman,” which means to quietly endure something uncomfortable, painful, or difficult. They are also good at “ganbaru,” doing a hard task with all their energy. Perhaps it comes from living in the constant threat of volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunamis, and being quite a small nation next-door to larger, more powerful neighbors. By enduring trials and rebuilding post-disaster with a determined spirit, Japan has weathered all manner of calamities, each time emerging stronger and more prepared for the next one.
You may be familiar with the large, angry-looking red figure called “daruma,” which symbolize perseverance and pursuing a goal. One eye is left blank until the goal is accomplished, upon which the other eye is filled in. What you might not know is daruma’s association with the Japanese proverb 七転八起 (ななころびやおき), which means to fall down seven times and get up eight times. In the same way, when a vase is cracked, it’s not the end. By repairing it with kintsugi, it can be given a second chance at life and put back up for display in an honored place.
Your turn! This year, the side-effects of the coronavirus on people’s finances, physical and mental health have left a lot feeling knocked down. If you know anybody like that, why not think of how you can help them to get back up again, just like a daruma.
無心 (むしん) “mushin”
Coming from the phrase “mushin no shin,” this concept originates from Zen Buddhism. It means having a mind “without thought.” More than just having a blank mind, mushin is a spiritual discipline that is supposed to compel a person to act in response to a situation spontaneously, without premeditation. Mushin is an important concept in many of the traditional Japanese arts, including “kado,” 花道 (かどう) or flower arranging, “shodo,” 書道 (しょどう) or calligraphy, “kyudo,” 弓道 (きゅうどう) or archery, “kendo,” 剣道 (けんどう) or sword-fighting, judo 柔道 (じゅうどう), and “aikido,” 合気道 (あいきどう) Japanese martial arts. This quieted mind and unpremeditated work style comes to life in kintsugi.
Your turn! Spontaneity can be helpful in art, sports, or any kind of handiwork. If you are usually the type of person who plans everything out before you start a project, why not try letting go a little bit and see what happens!
物の哀れ(もののあわれ) “mono no aware”
Mono no aware is the idea of mutability, or the transience of life. No one wants their favorite teacup to crack, but accidents are inevitable, and when they happen, the question is what to do about it. This love for fleeting things is apparent in the Japanese love for the changing seasons. The cherry blossom season, for example, lasts only a couple weeks at most, before spring rains wash the petals away. Yet that’s what makes them so precious. In a more somber way, “mono no aware” is related to the next concept of “wabi-sabi.”
詫び錆 (わびさび) “wabi-sabi”
Wabi-sabi is the appreciation for flawed and imperfect things. It is what makes people love Ginkakuji 銀閣寺 (ぎんかくじ), the Silver Pavilion in Kyoto, more than Kinkakuji 金閣寺 (きんかくじ) the considerably more flashy, Golden Pavilion, and Juusanya 十三夜 (じゅうさんや), the celebration of the waning harvest moon, more than Juugoya 十五夜 (じゅうごや), the celebration of the waxing or full harvest moon. In the West, where symmetry and perfection are valued, we may think a brand new piece of pottery is the most valuable, but the wabi-sabi mindset puts greater value on the chipped and repaired vessel with history.
生き甲斐 (いきがい) “Ikigai”
Japanese are, among many other things, industrious and compassionate people. Being able to help others “hito ni yakudatsu” 人に役立つ (ひとにやくだつ) is a top motivator for choosing a job or profession. Motivation for working is called “hatarakigai,” 働き甲斐 (はたらきがい) and for something to be worth doing is called “yarigai” 遣り甲斐 (やりがい). Both these words have in common “kai,” 甲斐 (かい) which means worth, and this brings us to our final concept: “ikigai” 生き甲斐 (いきがい), which means “life purpose,” or “reason for being.” Because kintsugi allows pottery to once again be useful to its owner, essentially giving it a second chance at life, ikigai is the very heart of kintsugi.
What about you?
How does kintsugi inspire you, whether it be in life or art?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!