Mon. Jul 15th, 2024

The art of kintsugi – a blend of the Japanese words kin (meaning gold) and tsugi (meaning joinery) – refers to repairing broken pottery by using lacquer mixed with gold powder. Kintsugi dates back to the 15th century and is also sometimes referred to as kintsukurio, literally “golden repair.” Rather than trying to hide the restoration, kintsugi embraces the flaws and imperfections, making the repaired pottery much more beautiful and valuable in the process. Essentially, kintsugi is an embodiment of the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which centers on the act of embracing the flawed and imperfect. When kintsugi is used to mend broken pottery, the repaired flaws are highlighted, not hidden.

Kintsugi can be used to repair cracks, chips, and even missing pieces of pottery. The three basic forms of kintsugi are:

  • Crack (ひび): This technique refers to using lacquer mixed with gold powder to bind together the broken pieces of pottery, resulting in golden seams that highlight the repaired cracks
  • Piece (欠けの金継ぎ例): This method is utilized when a replacement ceramic fragment is not available, and the missing piece is substituted in its entirety by a lacquer and gold compound
  • Joint Call (呼び継ぎ): This process uses a similarly shaped but non-matching ceramic fragment to replace a missing piece – thereby creating a patchwork effect – that is held in place by a lacquer and gold compound

The lacquer traditionally used in kintsugi – urishi lacquer – comes from the Toxicodendron vernicfluum tree – also known as an urushi tree or a Chinese lacquer tree. The urushi tree is indigenous to Japan, Korea, China, and Southeast Asia, and is related to poison ivy, poison sumac, and poison oak. Like those plants, the urushi tree is a very strong irritant, so care must be taken in extracting the sap used to make the lacquer. Although an urushi tree grows between 25 and 65 feet in height, it produces only about one cup of sap every six months, making the urushi lacquer quite expensive. Urushi lacquer is a particularly strong adhesive for Japan’s humid environment because it hardens by absorbing moisture from the air. Urushi lacquer is a very durable adhesive on its own, but the addition of gold powder (silver and platinum are also sometimes used) effectively dyes the lacquer and increases its durability and beauty.

The Kintsugi Process

While the beauty of kintsugi is undeniable, few appreciate the patience and dedication required to perfect the art form. The theory behind kintsugi is deceptively simple – mix urushi lacquer with a binding agent to adhere broken ceramic pieces back together, and then highlight the repairs with gold. In practice, however, the process is considerably more complicated. Among other things, kintsugi relies on:

  • Using the urushi lacquer properly, which is not only difficult to work with, but can irritate the skin if handled incorrectly
  • Adding an appropriate medium to the urushi lacquer to compensate for missing bits of ceramic lost because of the breakage
  • Aligning all of the broken pieces together in a trial fitting to assure proper fit
  • Applying the lacquer medium to the edges of all of the broken pieces of pottery
  • Fitting all of the broken pieces back together
  • Allowing the repaired pottery to cure in an environment of 80% humidity and at least 82° Fahrenheit – a process that can take several weeks
  • Cleaning off all of the excess lacquer and smoothing the seams and other repairs – a process that can also take weeks
  • Applying a thin coating or bead of lacquer along the seams and other repairs
  • Sprinkling gold powder on the lacquer and allowing it to bond
  • Polishing the golden repairs with a soft cotton-type material

Retirement – A Time for Career Kintsugi

Greg Bishop, an attorney in Park City, explains that it is not uncommon during a hectic career for important things to break. Perhaps you did not pay as much attention to a vital part of your life as you should have. Or maybe given the press of other things, you simply gave up on pursuing something that was nevertheless important. Or possibly something meaningful broke because of a misunderstanding that was not corrected on time. Examples of things that may have broken during your career include:

  • Physical: You led a more sedentary lifestyle than you wanted, developed poor nutrition habits, or gained an unhealthy amount of weight
  • Relationships: You drifted away from those you love, or you didn’t devote the amount of time and attention to them that they deserved
  • Ambitions: You let go of an early dream or ambition that still troubles you
  • Poor Habits: You allowed yourself to develop poor habits that you have tried to quit, but haven’t yet succeeded in breaking
  • Unfinished Business: Despite your best efforts to accomplish something, you didn’t quite get it done

Mr. Bishop notes that retirement can be a great time to repair those things that broke during a busy career – regardless of what caused the damage. As with kintsugi, you can embrace – rather than hide – your flaws and imperfections, repairing what is broken and transforming it into something beautiful. But it will take the time and dedication required by kintsugi itself, including:

  • Taking care not to introduce new toxic elements that may create new irritations
  • Evaluating what is missing and finding the best way to fill in the gaps
  • Patiently working to align the broken pieces, so they fit together naturally and organically
  • Creating the right environment so that your repair efforts can cure
  • Allowing adequate time for broken areas to heal
  • Investing sufficient resources to move from broken to beautiful
  • Cherishing the repairs as they occur

As Khalil Gibran noted, “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” By metaphorically using kintsugi, the scars of your career can become the things of beauty in your retirement.

About Greg Bishop

Greg Bishop has a BA in English Literature, an MBA, a Juris Doctor, and three decades of experience in legal, compliance, and HR matters. In 2019, Utah Business Magazine ranked Mr. Bishop as among the “Legal Elite” for in-house attorneys in the State of Utah. However, he feels that the greatest thing he has to offer is his passion for living life to the fullest and helping and empowering others to do the same.




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