What we can learn from the Japanese art of Kintsugi


Paridhi Laddha

Psychology Associate

What's the meaning of Kintsugi?

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with liquid gold. The meaning of the Japanese word “kintsugi” comes from:

kin = golden

tsugi = joinery

So it means, literally, ‘to join with gold’.

In Zen aesthetics, the broken pieces of an accidentally-smashed pot should be carefully picked up, reassembled and then glued together with gold. There should be no attempt to disguise the damage, the point is to embrace the fault-lines that makes it beautiful and strong.

In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, Kintsugi has long represented philosophical ideas. The practice of Kintsugi is related to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which refers to seeing beauty in the flawed or imperfect. The repair method of Kintsugi was also inspired by the Japanese feeling of mottainai, which expresses regret when something is wasted, as well as mushin, which is the acceptance of change. So, there's an immense depth of philosophy behind the origin of this art form.

It is built on the idea that in embracing flaws and imperfections, you can create an even stronger, more beautiful piece of art. Every break is unique and instead of repairing an item like new by hiding the cracks, the 400-year-old technique actually highlights the 'scars' as a part of the design to make it even more beautiful than the original.

This leads to revitalizing the object with a new look and giving it a second life.

Using this as a metaphor for healing ourselves teaches us an important lesson: Sometimes in the process of repairing things that are broken, we actually create something more unique, beautiful and resilient than the original itself!

In an age that worships youth, perfection and the new, the art of Kintsugi holds a particular wisdom – as applicable to our own lives as it is to a broken tea cup. The effort and love extended on the shattered pots teaches us to respect what is damaged and scarred, vulnerable and imperfect – starting with ourselves and those around us.

The Kintsugi technique suggests many things. Each of us should look for a way to cope with traumatic events in a positive way, learn from negative experiences take the best from them and convince ourselves that exactly these experiences make each of us unique and precious. It teaches to not run away or hide negative experiences, but rather own and embrace them.

Sometimes life gives us cracks and other times we get completely shattered and all we want to do is go back to the way things were, but it’s impossible. Kintsugi teaches us to work on rebuilding our broken selves and celebrate their value so they become a part of your story, making us a better person that we are today, stronger and wiser.

Now the 'repair' or healing takes a lot of effort, but instead of throwing things away or pretending the worst never happened, we give the cracks meaning and purpose by using them to enhance it as a whole.

Let's imagine that our life is like a ceramic bowl. With Kintsugi, every step we make toward healing is like gluing those pieces back together with gold. We feel more whole and complete.

How can the art of Kintsugi inspire us for Self Development?

We probably don’t expect other people to be perfect. We may in fact appreciate it when people expose their vulnerabilities, show old wounds or admit mistakes. It’s evidence that we’re all fallible, that we heal and grow, that we survive blows to the ego or to our reputation, our heart or health and can live to tell the tale. Exposing vulnerabilities by admitting errors, creates intimacy and trust in relationships and fosters mutual understanding. Still, though we’re often relieved when others are truthful of their vulnerabilities, we’re afraid to 'expose' ourselves.

We see other people’s honesty about their flaws as positive, but we consider admitting our own failures much more difficult.

We feel the things that happen to us intimately and physically. On the other hand, what happens to others functions more like an instructive tale, because the pain of failure isn’t our own and the distance gives us perspective. We all understand in theory that bad things can happen. But we also feel really bad when they happen to us, and condemn ourselves.

Vulnerability is courage in others but inadequacy in you: that’s completely wrong, imperfections are gifts to be worked with, not shame to be hidden.

Here are some lessons we can adopt into our life inspired by Kintsugi:

1. Turning the blunder into a thunder

It’s absurd to be embarrassed about missteps and failures in our lives because they happen to everyone, and no experience is wasted. Everything that happens: good, beautiful, bad, ugly can serve as a life lesson, even if it’s one you would never want to repeat again. Actually, mistakes can be the most important and effective experiences of all. Things may fall apart. That’s life. But if we’re wise, we can use every scrap, patch yourself up, and keep going.

After all, our cracks are what give us character. And let us shine!

2. Broken can be beautiful, whether it’s a ceramic bowl or our heart

Just because something is broken, does not mean it does not deserve our recognition and attention. It still has much to offer and so repairing broken objects with gold became a way to transform the imperfect into something beautiful once again. This practice could also serve as a reminder that sometimes, it’s okay to feel broken too.

Kintsugi encourages us to live a full, rich life because we are not afraid of the things that might break us. Just as a ceramic is fragile, beautiful and strong, so are we. And just as ceramics can break, so too can they be repaired.

Ceramics and life can break into a thousand pieces, but that should be no reason to stop living life intensely, working intensely and keeping alive all our hopes and dreams. We can gain from our experience, however awful and painful that may be.

Kintsugi quote: 'There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.' ~ Leonard Cohen

3. Scars are beautiful

When it comes to the physical aspect, we don’t have to try to look young and flawless all the time, like we’re all brand-new products manufactured for Instagram. White hair, lined skin, scars, the extra pounds—these don’t have to be dyed, pulled taut, hidden, and lost. They might be seen as signs we’re humans. Kintsugi embraces authenticity and imperfections, highlights rather than hides the scars. Fixes and repairs can add useful life to things we love and appreciate. When highlighted, instead of hidden, they can also add character and beautiful flair.

Too many people feel broken or damaged — or simply not good enough We’re so busy being hard on ourselves that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that we are also deserving of the love, effort, acceptance and recognition. We need to look deep inside of your heart, because it’s full of those golden cracks, where the light, the grace, the humility comes in. We are not perfect, yet we are Kintsugi.

Kintsugi quote: We shouldn’t conceal our cracks, they are proof of our strength.

4. Perfection is overrated

Kintsugi is inspired by the Japanese tradition of Wabi Sabi, it reminds us that imperfection is both inevitable and beautiful and that to live simply is to live with beauty and grace.

Embracing the imperfect means that we celebrate our strengths.

When we expect everything and everyone to be perfect, including ourselves, we not only discount much of what is beautiful, but we create a cruel world where resources are wasted, people’s positive qualities are overlooked because of their flaws, and our values become impossibly limiting, restrictive, and unhealthy.

This same philosophy can and should be applied to life. We all long for a good life. We want happiness, prosperity, success and we all seek perfection. Yet things are never easy or perfect. Life is full of successes and failures, although sometimes it can feel broken, damaged and imperfect.

Though we may keep a little quiet about this, especially when we’re young, we tend deep down to be rather hopeful that we will – eventually – manage to find perfection in a number of areas. We dream of one day securing an ideally harmonious relationship, deeply fulfilling work, a happy family life and the respect of others.

But life has a habit of giving us a range of blows leaving us with this collection of our fine dreams with some shattered fragments. What we must understand through this is, perfection in unattainable and there is beauty in our imperfect lives too.

The truth is, it is such struggles and challenges that make life worth living. That makes the good that much better. Following the philosophy of Kintsugi, what becomes important is how we handle the situations that don’t go our way. We shouldn’t hide them away or prevent them from being part of who we are. Instead, we should embrace them and let them make us stronger.

Life will never be perfect. Things don’t go as planned and our time here is full of twists and turns. What we can do though, is control how we react to our struggles and challenges. Embrace the imperfections. Realize they are just as important as the rest. After all, without the bitter, the sweet isn’t as sweet.

Kintsugi helps in recognising and accepting the role of adversity in our life. For many people, a moment of crisis — the loss of a job, a divorce, a serious accident — can, with reflection, be a powerful motive for change and the chance of a new, happier, more deeply lived life.

Kintsugi quote: The realization is that pain awakens you and makes you feel alive. It will remind you of what is important and how without darkness, light cannot exist.

5. Let your wounds shine

Kintsugi's first essential practice is to set aside our self-defeating emotional conclusions, the 'stories' we've constructed about how impossible it is for us to recover from our devastations, betrayals and losses. Or even more detrimental, our tendency to cling to misfortunes as a way to prove to ourselves and others that we are 'damaged goods', not worthy of love, recognition or success.

Kintsugi quote: 'The wound is the place where the light enters you.'

A metaphor for the human journey

Our deepest pain, our biggest fears all the struggles we’ve gone through have forever changed us. It's only human to make mistakes, to suffer losses and wear our scars. Let's acknowledge the person we have become throughout a journey filled with joy and sadness.

As people, the things in life things that are sent to test us can also be the things that truly make us. They create golden threads of experience that run like fault lines across our soul, pushing us to extremes so that we emerge bolder, wiser and more beautiful from the healing we have done.

We just need to find out how to embrace our emotional scars and make them beautiful. They are proof that we have suffered; let's allow them to remind us that we are strong.

We don't get through life unharmed, and it’s far less painful to display our scars proudly than to continuously try to cover them. The Japanese art of Kintsugi is a tribute to our imperfections and it is teaches us that it does not matter if we have been damaged in the past!

Once we have mended the pieces, we will be far more beautiful than ever before.

View more content by Paridhi Laddha

Discussion Board

How does the art of Kintsugi inspire you?

Rohit Chopra
Thanks for the incredible article Paridhi. What I learnt: 1. Just because something is broken, doesn't mean it cannot become better 2. Scars can actually be beautiful Cheers! 🙂✌️
Pari Laddha
Thank you!
Chetan Patil
Gratitude to you Paridhi. Thanks for introducing us to this beautiful concept.
Pari Laddha
Thank you😇
Bhageshwari Shekhawat
Indeed they are!!
Kritika Sharma
Just so beautifully presented ❤️
Tarun Singla
so true