32. Kintsugi Academy

May 21, 2021 - Roger W. Lowther

Last week, I shared with you the story of the tsunami violin, “The 1,000 Bonds of Hope” project. Nakazawa-san made a violin out of debris left by the tsunami and a sound post out of a small fragment from the Miracle Pine Tree, a symbol of hope throughout Japan. His work was not just creation but re-creation. He was literally redeeming brokenness in this world to make something life-giving. This violin is traveling the country of Japan through 1,000 performers to bring people together after the darkness of the earthquake in 2011, and now especially through the COVID-19 crisis in the midst of our isolation and division.

Today I’d like to share Kunio Nakamura-san’s message about Kintsugi Academy and the role kintsugi can play in our lives. This traditional Japanese art of mending broken pottery with gold is packed with meaning. Here Nakamura-san is answering the question, “Why bother fixing broken pottery? Why not just buy something new?”

[Nakamura-san speaking in the conference]

The art of kintsugi is not just about fixing. Some people spend $50 to fix a $5 mug. Why would they do that? Well, he told us, it’s because the value changes over time. If you use a mug for 10 years, it becomes more valuable to you. It’s no longer worth just $5 but something more.

Nakamura-san learned kintsugi as a technique, but soon realized it’s so much deeper than that.

He shared how he regularly goes to Tohoku, to areas most affected by the earthquake that struck in 2011, and that even now people bring him objects to fix that were broken at that time. They didn’t throw these things out but stored them somewhere, in a closet or in the back of some drawer, until 10 years later they finally came to this point.

Kintsugi has traditionally been about bringing broken vessels to professionals to fix, but he finds meaning in each person doing the repairs themselves. He’s experienced first-hand the self-healing that can come through such a process. And so rather than a craftsman, he sees himself more as an evangelist for kintsugi, for the good that it can do. And he wants to bring this wherever it’s needed in the world, especially areas of conflict.

Teaming up with modern artist Makoto Fujimura, he’d like to see kintsugi go to the Gaza Strip, the U.S.–Mexican border, places of racial tension, or schools where violence has occurred. The corona epidemic put a stop to all travel for now, but next year he hopes to be holding workshops with people in all these areas.

More than repairs, he teaches how to repair, and more fundamentally, that repair is possible.

He’s especially interested in the technique yobitsugi. Yobitsugi is about bringing different parts together. From several pieces of debris, you can make one beautiful bowl. Or symbolically, by taking broken pieces from countries in conflict with one another, you can use them to make one vessel. Adding gold to that, an image of hope and light around the world throughout history, makes the message all that more powerful.

Before our “Aroma of Beauty” conference, Nakamura-san led a workshop with about twenty of us. It was amazing! He began by going around the room and asking everyone’s story behind their broken vessels, and why they were fixing them. One couple was to be married the following weekend, and so this mug was a symbol of their union together. A man shared about his son whose marriage had fallen apart. Another man shared about a severe depression he had the previous year and needed to know that beautiful things could come out of his brokenness. It did not feel like we were in a pottery fixing class but like some therapy session.

I worked on a twice-broken plate our church, Grace City Church Tokyo, uses for communion. The first time it broke a couple of years ago, I repaired it with gold in a kintsugi workshop. The second time it broke, when my son knocked it down from a drying rack in our kitchen, the previously repaired crack was safe and untouched. It never occurred to me that the crack not only made the plate more valuable and beautiful, but stronger as well! The cracks, the most beautiful part of the plate, were now also the strongest parts! There’s so much deep wisdom in that!

When I repaired it this time, I used silver so I could capture the timeline of the two breakings, and I also used the art of yobitsugi, including a small piece of sheet music from a broken porcelain figure.

Nakamura-san walked around the room talking to each person and hearing more of their story. And he kept saying over and over again, “Slowly! Go more slowly!” It was not about fixing an object, he reminded us. Rather, it was about giving yourself time to internalize what you were doing.

God remakes this world to not only be more beautiful than it was before but stronger through it. He reconnects our isolated parts across all perceived barriers, gives wisdom and strength from trauma, and shows a new creation full of beauty and hope as we journey through and beyond this pandemic. And the art of kintsugi is helping point the way.

Watch other videos from our "Aroma of Beauty" Conference


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