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DIY: Repair your broken pottery with the Japanese art of “kintsugi”

I’m on my 35th birthday two years ago, my wonderful husband Julien surprised me with a class in “kintsugi” — the ancient Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer and metallic powder.

I didn’t know where we were going as we winded a little street in the quirky Suginami neighborhood of Tokyo. But then we found it — the fresh, earthy scent of clay, the sound of a spinning pottery wheel, and the sparkle of gold reflecting through a window. “Oh, it’s kintsugi!”, I exclaimed excitedly as I jumped up and wrapped my arms around him.

At that time, I was still recovering from breast cancer treatment and grappling with the loss of my breast and the large scar hidden under my linen shirt. But these Japanese concepts— wabi-sabi, kintsugi—a way of healing that honors cracks rather than hides them, resonated deep within my chest and pulled playfully at my heartstrings. Plus, the kintsugi aesthetic is absolutely stunning. I couldn’t wait to get my hands dirty.

Inside, Yoshiko and Yoshiichiro, the cute married couple who own Kuge Crafts, blushed sweetly at the sight of our affection and welcomed us in with a smile. A table was laid out with Japanese sweets and tea and their impressive kintsugi collection—an antique teacup with gold cracks, rice bowls with glass beads, as well as more minimalist modern pieces crafted by their son Shu. As we drank our tea, we dug into the legendary history of this ancient art form.

The word “kintsugi” comes from the Japanese “kin” (gold) and “tsugi” (joint), literally meaning “golden joinery.” Japanese legend tells the story of Ashikaga Yoshimasa, a mighty shogun warrior who broke his favorite tea bowl and sent it away to China to be repaired. When he received it back, the bowl was not watertight, held together by unsightly metal staples. Disappointed, he asked his Japanese artisans to find a more functional and beautiful solution, and the art of kintsugi was born.

Traditionally, kintsugi is a long and detailed practice, often lasting weeks, months. Kuge-san would be teaching us a very basic, beginners’ version using more modern materials.

We started small with blue porcelain teacups, each with a single chip that had broken off. Kuge-san gave us a mixture of epoxy putty to mold with and place in the opening. Once dried, we filed and sanded it down until the putty was smooth and fit the desiredshape We dipped a fine brush in the gold and carefully painted the putty and decorated the surface with dots, lines and our names. As we worked, I saw myself in the cracks, feeling a creative flow as we filled them with the metallic mixture, like the proverbial “silver lining” to the storm. Our now mended cups were soon runneth over with golden gratitude, which we drank from in celebration. (Jump to DIY Kintsugi Instructions).

Kintsugi is not only an empowering act of self-love but also a fun sustainability practice—a very visible, tangible example of the Japanese concepts of mottainai (stop waste) and wabi-sabi (the beauty in imperfection). Instead of throwing away what’s broken, kintsugi allows us to salvage and cherish them, to help make them last.

After the class, I was on the hunt for broken pottery, secretly hoping I might accidentally break something. Of course, accidents happen. Now, two years later, I have a small collection of broken cups and plates stored inside a box in our new place in Hong Kong.

As Japan’s cherry trees are now in bloom, I reflect on the sacred space we have for growth and rebirth. Even in the face of loss, illness, cracks, and age, nothing is beyond repair. With kintsugi, we can take our mistakes and make them meaningful, that which is broken, and give it new life. Today, I bring those broken pieces out of the box and begin again. Below you’ll find step-by-step instructions so you can join me in “golden joinery!”

DIY Kintsugi

1. Gather your broken pottery and the following materials:

  1. Broken pottery
  2. Hammer (if you need to break something 😉 
  3. Epoxy putty (for chipped edges)
  4. Epoxy adhesive (for gluing together broken pieces)
  5. Lacquer 
  6. Gold or silver dust 
  7. Fine sandpaper (#800 or #1000)
  8. File
  9. Fine paintbrush

2. Mix together equal parts epoxy A and B putty and/or adhesive.

3. Mold the mixture into the chipped or broken part of the pottery, filling in any gaps.

4. Let dry for about one hour until hard to the touch.

5. File the dried putty down until smooth and fits desired shape.

6. Mix about a spoonful of lacquer with a dash of metallic powder.

7. With a fine brush, paint the metallic mixture onto the putty/adhesive and decorate as you wish!

8. Voilà! Your kintsugi creation is now complete. Let it dry for about one hour and enjoy!

JULIA // Tokyo / Hong Kong

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