Monday, June 10, 2019

The Wonderful Concept of Kintsugi

For whatever reason, during the many years I lived in Japan, I never learned much, if anything, about kintsugi. But in the last few weeks I have seen references to kintsugi in recent English-language books/articles, and I have read part of Candice Kumai’s delightful book Kintsugi Wellness: The Japanese Art of Nourishing Mind, Body, and Spirit (2018).
So, What is Kintsugi?
Kumai, who was born in California to a Japanese mother and Polish-American father, calls kintsugi “the Japanese art of golden repair.” It is literally the repairing of broken dishes by joining the broken pieces with lacquer and dusting them with gold powder.
(Kintsugi, 金継ぎis pronounced like keen-tsu-gee [as gee in geek without the k].)
“The Japanese believe the golden cracks make the pieces even more precious and valuable,” writes Kumai--and you can see from the picture below an example of a broken tea bowl repaired by kintsugi
For those of you who might want to try your hand at repairing a broken piece of china or something, you can purchase a “Kintsugi repair kit” at for a tad over US$100 (see here).
What is Metaphorical Kintsugi?
As might be expected, many people have seen a metaphorical meaning in kintsugi. Indeed, on page four of her book, Kumai states that kintsugi can be “a metaphor for your life.” It “teaches you that your broken places make you stronger and better than ever before.”
The website of a British organization called “The School of Life” has a short article on kintsugi. They say that the kintsugi process symbolizes “a reconciliation with the flaws and accidents of time.” Their article ends,
In an age that worships youth, perfection and the new, the art of kintsugi retains a particular wisdom--as applicable to our own lives as it is to a broken tea cup. The care and love expended on the shattered pots should lend us the confidence to respect what is damaged and scarred, vulnerable and imperfect--starting with ourselves and those around us.
(I had not previously heard of The School of Life, but, interestingly, it was founded in 2008 by Alain de Botton, who is the author of Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion, 2012--and the book to be discussed this Wednesday at Vital Conversations, the local study group June and I are members of.)
Kintsugi and the Wounded Healer
Religious people also, of course, have found the concept of kintsugi beneficial. For example, Christy Bonner, a Christian counselor, posted an article in April under the title “Kintsugi: The Way of the Wounded Healer.”
Many of you are probably familiar with Henri Nouwen’s idea of the “wounded healer,” explained in his 1972 book published under that title. As far as I know, Nouwen (1932~96) made no reference to kintsugi, but no doubt there have been many, like Bonner, who see the close connection between his writing about the wounded healer and metaphorical kintsugi.
Toward the end of her article, Bonner writes, “I am a wounded healer, I am a cracked bowl put back together with a gold lacquer. I am strong at my broken places. My scars are beautiful. And yours are too."
And then there is Jim Contopulos’s article “Kintsugi—Beautiful Brokenness” (July 2013). He writes, “Kintsugi is a beautiful and accurate metaphor for our lives, and for the life, in the worlds of Henri Nouwen, of the ‘wounded Healer’ as well as for those who would follow Him.”
Contopulos calls on his readers to strive to see the kintsugi beauty in the brokenness of others—and in ourselves. He closes his article, and I close, with these words: “Kintsugi, Lord. Kintsugi.”


  1. Here are the first comments received this morning:

    From Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago: "Thanks, Leroy, for introducing us to kintsugi, a beautiful metaphor for life."

    From local Thinking Friend Bruce Morgan: "Lovely way to start the week. Beautiful concept.Thanks, also, for resurrecting Nouwen’s “The Wounded Healer.” Read it [long] ago and loved it."

    From local Thinking Friend Ann Henning: "What wonderful thinking!"

    From local Thinking Friend (and my daughter) Kathy Laffoon, writing from D.C.: "I really like this idea. Thanks for sharing this in such a nice post."

  2. Bob Leeper is a new local Thinking Friend, and this morning he responded to this blog article with this:

    "When I was growing up in the hills of southern Missouri, my grandpa had one object of beauty which he treasured; a musical beer mug brought to him from the first war by his brother; it was adored and treasured by all the family. By accident my nearly-blind little grandmother knocked it off the shelf and it broke into many pieces; disaster. We gathered up all the pieces and brought it to Kansas City in later years and found a lady who glued it back together good-as-new for $1 per piece = $7.00 restored beauty. Gather the pieces."

    1. Thanks for sharing this, Bob. While it is not exactly the same as kintsugi, still, it shows the importance of gathering and mending the pieces of what is broken. Too many times, I'm afraid, we discount and dispose of what is broken rather than working on gluing things back together. And that goes for things like broken relationships as well as for things like broken musical beer mugs.

  3. Never heard of kintsugi before. I expect I am by no means alone in that. I did read Nouwen's "The Wounded Healer" decades ago when I was very wounded professionally, psychologically, and spiritually. The last two flowed from the first. I was too wrapped up in my professional self. When I suffered a severe blow to that self, it wounded me, totally. I cannot remember a sentence or a paragraph from Nouwen. I do remember that it was very helpful. My healing started spiritually with some wise and understanding friends applying some glue to the cracked places. These same friends were able to help me recoup professionally. My professional goal was in theological education. I was able to modify my goal and go into the pastorate. Of course in my pastorates I exercised my gifts and insights and was a minister of theological education to the congregations I served. I had some meaningful pastorates, and retired from paid ministry, only to take up a racial justice ministry in my home town where I retired, a ministry which had state-wide, even nation-wide repercussions. I'm still not very popular in my home town. But then I don't need to be.So, I can "dig" kintsugi.I'm Charles Kiker, commenting anonymously for technical reasons.

    1. Thanks, Charles, for sharing your experiences as a "wounded healer." Even though you hadn't previously heard of "kintsugi," I am happy that you experienced a kintsugi-type healing from your brokenness and were able to fulfill a life of meaningful ministry.

  4. Here are significant comments from Thinking Friend Tom Nowlin in Arkansas:

    "Even though I lived in Japan for 12 years, this is the first time I have heard of Kintsugi. Is the literal translation then “gold-bonding”? I love the concept and the metaphor!

    "Though I read Henri Nouwen’s 'Wounded Healer' some years ago (in Molly Marshall’s Formations class at Southern Seminary, I believe), the kintsugi imagery is quite riveting. Is this the true alchemy? The disappointments in life can be redeemed, made golden and made to serve the present and future. This seems consistent to me with process thought. We are all in process. I certainly hope no one thinks of me today as I was 15 years ago, 20 years ago, etc. The concrescences of our individual live’s feed and inform one into another and thus our total life force aggregates into who we are today, hopefully stronger, wiser and more beautiful than ever."