What’s Kintsugi Got to do With it?

My husband has a deep and abiding love of Japanese tattoos and sends me videos almost daily. So when my husband sent me a link to a video with “kintsugi” in the description a few months ago, I saw the name and made the assumption that since it was Japanese, it probably related to tattoos and made a mental note to come back to it later. 

Well, weeks passed and one day he asked me if I’d ever watched the video.  Embarrassed that I had completely forgotten, I told him I hadn’t yet done so and then promptly brought up the video and watched it.  The video was short, but I sat there for long minutes after it ended just staring the screen, processing what I’d just seen.

Kintsugi—literally “golden joinery”—is the Japanese art of repairing or reassembling broken pottery using a lacquer called urushi mixed with a precious metal like gold, silver, or platinum.

It was one of those moments where the neurons in my brain were going crazy, making connections I hadn’t even realized needed to be made. I felt drawn to what I’d watched and knew there was something much deeper there than what met the eye.

Okay, broken pottery that’s been repaired.  What’s the big deal?

I understand; even from an artistic perspective, it seems a little strange to get that excited about kintsugi, right?  But that’s just the thing.  Yes, it’s stunning to look at; but I fell in love with it because kintsugi itself is beautiful.

Confused?  Let me explain.

For centuries, well before the popularization of kintsugi through an artistic lens, the Japanese used the kintsugi technique, devoting time and effort to repair broken pottery by highlighting the broken lines, the permanent fractures, the imperfections.  The defects resulting from the breaking of the original item are accentuated and the piece takes on a new, unique beauty because of them.

NOT in spite of them.

In much of the world, particularly here in the US, the opposite view is taken.  If you knock over your favorite mug and take a chunk out of the handle, what do you do?  Most people will hop online, fire up google, and start searching for a replacement mug.  There is such a focus on perfection that the presence of imperfections is unsettling and upsetting.

Even in my own house, my husband and I have waged small battles about the perfection of material goods.  The most contentious item is a mug I’ve had for close to 15 years.  I’ve dragged it along with me through countless moves in that time and the handle has been chipped and broken off more times than I can count.  Each time, I glued the handle back on the best I could. 

Were you able to tell the handle was broken?  Absolutely.  And my husband argued and eventually rolled his eyes and threw his hands in the air each time I insisted on gluing that handle back on and keeping the mug. At this point, the handle has been broken beyond repair and I use the mug without one.

But I didn’t think the obvious break lines and missing chips of glazing did anything to detract from the beauty of the mug and it certainly had no impact on the sentimental value of an item someone had purchased for me while she was traveling just because it made her think of me.

Kintsugi for people

What I realized as I watched that video on the kintsugi technique was the similarity to the theme in my novels.  I write about characters who have been through traumatic experiences in their lives and, as a result, find themselves broken in one way or another.  Some of them have a small chip here or there.  Others have been completely shattered into millions of tiny fragments. 

Just like the possible outcome from knocking over or dropping your favorite pottery item. 

And then, as my stories progress, the characters encounter love.  Platonic love.  Familial love.  Romantic love.  And as this love makes its way into their lives and refuses to leave, like the bonding properties of the urushi lacquer, it helps to hold the pieces together.  And at the end, like with kintsugi when you have a beautiful, new, unique pottery item, the characters have forged themselves anew.  The imperfections aren’t gone; on the contrary, they are integral to the beautiful people the characters are.

But here’s the thing:  this isn’t just fiction.  Everyone out there has a story, everyone out there has faced daunting obstacles.  Many have experienced real trauma—some unimaginably horrific in nature—and now live with the lasting impacts. 

Like anxiety. 

Like PTSD. 

Like co-dependence and panic attacks and depression and addiction, and the list goes on.  And those people may look broken to someone who doesn’t have those same mental health challenges. 

I can tell you that we certainly feel broken sometimes.

But with just a little love—a little kintsugi for people, if you will—you may just discover how beautiful broken can be.

Visit one of the links below to learn more about kintsugi.

Interested in learning more about the devastating impact of childhood trauma and abuse, PTSD, or anxiety? Check out my Resources page.

Do you have other resources to share or comments on the topics discussed above?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!  Leave a comment below or send me an email

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2 thoughts on “What’s Kintsugi Got to do With it?

  1. Pingback: Finding Annie by Katherine Turner – The Pensive Bookworm

  2. Pingback: Dear Brutus, – don't ask Liv

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