Celebrating Our Imperfections with Kintsugi, a Japanese Way to Wellness

April 16, 2018

Traditionally, kintsugi refers to the Japanese art of repairing cracks in pottery by sealing them with lacquer and dusting them with gold powder; but in a philosophical sense, it treats―and celebrates―breakage as part of an object’s unique history. In Kintsugi Wellness, out April 17, Candice Kumai shows us how to apply this loving, common sense approach to wellness in our own lives, drawing on her Japanese heritage, as well as personal journeys in food, travel, and heartache. More in an edited excerpt below.

Teacups repaired through the art of kintsugi. Photo by Candice Kumai

Kintsugi made me who I am today.

The practice of kintsugi—repairing broken vessels by sealing the cracks with lacquer and carefully dusting them with gold powder—is a remarkable art. The Japanese believe the golden cracks make the pieces even more precious and valuable.

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It’s beautiful to think of this practice as a metaphor for your life, to see the broken, difficult, or painful parts of you as radiating light, gold, and beauty. Kintsugi teaches you that your broken places make you stronger and better than ever before. When you think you are broken, you can pick up the pieces, put them back together, and learn to embrace the cracks.

Many of us are struggling to be better, to recharge, or to keep up. We’re constantly searching for the secret to self-improvement. But we know, on some deep level, that there is no secret. In order to heal and feel whole, we have to do the work.

Through kintsugi, we learn it is okay to hurt and grieve. It is okay to be vulnerable. It is okay to accept and allow yourself the time to share, to open up, to exercise compassion.

Wherever you are right now, I urge you to take a solid look back on all that you have experienced, and all that you have healed and sealed from. More often than not, we do not pay attention and we do not track our progress. We live in a culture where we expect perfection and condemn ourselves when we are not perfect or when things don’t go our way. But sometimes, it takes years of persistence, hard work, and dedication to better hone and own your perfected craft before you can see the bigger picture.

Kintsugi teaches you that your broken places make you stronger and better than ever before.

Kintsugi marks your progress, so you do not forget.

Like a map of your heart, kintsugi shows us the lessons and reveals the truth. As much as the struggle, the pain, the trials and tribulations sucked, even when things were not your fault, all of life’s hurt can be mended through golden repair. When we change our mind-set about our past, we have come out of the struggles as a much more beautiful and refined version of ourselves. Your kintsugi cracks become gold by doing the work.

Kintsugi teaches you to be kind to yourself.

The spirit of kintsugi is also about forgiveness. It’s a practice of self-love. Accepting your cracks means being accepting and loving toward yourself. You must forgive yourself first, before you are capable of forgiving another. As you work toward this, you’ll see that the most beautiful, meaningful parts of yourself are the ones that have been broken, mended, and healed.

Kintsugi is a continuous practice.

Learning is the key to kintsugi, and we never stop learning. I have consistently spoken these soft words to my tough heart, “Candice, you have much to learn.” To practice Japanese wellness, you must approach it with an open and honest heart. I am committed to these practices, and committed to continuously improving every day. But I promise you, all it takes is open-ness, and you can learn.

Your cracks make you beautiful.

The physical art of kintsugi is beautiful, but that’s not what this book is about. The part I find moving, and what I want to share with you, is the analogy of embracing your past wounds, scars, pain, and internal struggle, and accepting their value. Your deepest pain, your biggest fears—all the struggles you’ve gone through—have forever changed you. If you could see my heart, you would see there are golden cracks all over it. Some run deep, some are still being sealed, and many more are still to come. Your heart looks very much the same. Kintsugi is life’s way of saying, “nobody’s perfect.” The path is not straight. In fact, your hardest challenges, deepest wounds, and greatest fears are actually among the most beautiful, precious, and admirable parts of you.

What are your thoughts on this Japanese style to healing and wellness? Let us know below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Ma R Yves
    Ma R Yves
  • 702551
writer + author of 6 books: including, kintsugi wellness


Ma R. June 25, 2018
It's a beautiful and healing metaphor. Thank you Candice for bringing it to light in such a warmly way to the western. Best!
702551 April 16, 2018
The related aesthetic Japanese philosophy called wabi-sabi is a more accurate metaphor for human existence.

Kintsugi involves repairing articles that were originally intact and pristine, but damaged from use.

Wabi-sabi is based on the principle that things are "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete." Objects are never perfect, even from the beginning. That is a more accurate metaphor for life.

Moreover kintsugi (the actual craft) is only applied on *manufactured* items of substantial value. The Japanese wouldn't apply kintsugi on a mass market "chawan" or rice bowl. The cost (time, money) of the kintsugi repair needs to be more or less in line with the value of the item being repaired.

Wabi-sabi places value in ordinary things, including those that aren't manufactured. Things like a wood plank with a rusty nail, a knothole in a tree trunk.

Yes, there's a decision to apply kintsugi to a valuable damaged good, but there's also a decision *NOT* to apply kintsugi to a valuable damaged good. The Japanese don't apply kintsugi willy-nilly to anything old, damaged and valuable.

For some items, the application of kintsugi would devalue the object. Thus, the decision to use kintsugi is at the judgment of the person.

A basic grasp on the concepts of wabi-sabi can be useful in giving guidance to the individual about when to repair something and when to leave it be. Of course, the decisions are all personal and often individuals would disagree on the best course of action to take.

The Western aesthetic is remarkable different and it is easy to see some of the challenging decisions that people have to make. Let's say your city was bombed out in WWII and most of the structures are in ruins. How much do you rebuild, what do you leave as ruins, what level of effort/time/money do you put into restoring a given monument into its previous glory. Of course, opinions can change over time. The iconic Frauenkirche in Dresden was destroyed by Allied bombers in WWII and was left as ruins as a reminder of injustice. After the German reunification, opinions changed and the church was rebuilt. Today it is again a proud iconic symbol of the city of Dresden. It doesn't quite identical: plaster has replaced marble, the workmanship quality is not the same.

Even Japanese art restorers often take a more modern Western approach in not trying to fully reconstruct/repair an item, but rather let the damage show through. You can see this if you visit the top museums in Japan. It is not a kintsugi exhibition.

The key thing to remember is that prettifying all the broken areas isn't necessarily improvement.

If you want to use kintsugi as a life philosophy, you will also need to know when not to use it because it wasn't designed as a life philosophy but as an aesthetic craft technique.

Just something to think about.
702551 April 16, 2018
Another way to put it is that kintsugi is all about holding on to something.

Wabi-sabi is about letting go. "Everything has its season."

Remember that kintsugi is a *VISUAL* aesthetic. It doesn't change the fundamental nature of damage. Kintsugi-repaired objects are hand washed and hand dried, they are no longer dishwasher safe. Also, depending on the location of the kintsugi repair, the vessel may no longer be suitable for use with hot contents (soups, etc.).

Kintsugi can be a powerfully pleasing aesthetic decision for porcelain
and clayware (and some wooden) object repair, but usually there are some sacrifices and compromises that must be made.

There are other Japanese techniques in repairing damaged items; kintsugi is one of the flashiest of all of them. Of course, there's the option of just letting it be or that it's time to say goodbye.