In Japan if a valuable vase, or any other pottery piece, gets damaged, sometimes it will be repaired in a unique and beautiful manner. Kintsugi and Kintsukuroi are the Japanese art forms of repairing such items with gold or silver. The story is told that Ashikaga Yoshimasa, a shogun, sent a damaged tea bowl for repair. It was returned badly stapled and looking remarkably un-repaired. He was not a happy shogun. Japanese experts then tried to find something more aesthetically pleasing, and came upon the idea of mixing gold or silver powder with resin. They then glue the damaged piece back together, but any gaps are filled, sanded down and polished to leave beautiful coloured cracks.
I really love this, there is something about the fact of cherishing something for not being perfect. The word kintsukuroi literally means just ‘to repair with gold’. However there is something more fundamental going on here. With this art form we cease from valuing perfection and embrace being loved for all our weaknesses. This for me, is embracing the real value of humanity.
Quite often in our lives we value objects. They may have sentimental value, aesthetic value and of course financial value. But as human beings we just like stuff. When something gets broken there is, in Western societies, a tendency to simply throw it away. But when it is repaired and repaired in a way that celebrates the break, even venerates it, it for me gains something. Instead of simply being an inanimate object, it has a story to tell. Not only was it created in the first place, but it was shattered and reborn at the hands of a craftsman, every bit as skilled as the originator.
Now if only we could carry on this work with people and not just inanimate objects. How often in the world do human beings become broken, damaged and shattered, only for family, friends and society to throw away the pieces. Someone gets injured in a car crash, and the scarring is described as ugly. Instead of a story to tell, it becomes an event from which to hide, an episode to sweep under the carpet. Women hide their bodies after childbirth, particularly in Asia, because the perfection of youth has gone. Instead of celebrating the miracle in which they have taken part, they see it as a negative.
Mental scarring is even more insidious in the way with which it is dealt. Fragile people are shunned and hidden away. Things are improving, but my word we have a long way to go before they are seen as something of beauty.
Kintsukuroi, remember the word – repaired with gold. Acceptance, there’s another – repaired with love.