Who invented kintsugi?

Answered by Tom Adger

The invention of kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold or other precious metals, is widely attributed to Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the eighth shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate. During the fifteenth century, Yoshimasa was known for his appreciation of the arts and his patronage of various artistic endeavors.

Legend has it that one day, Yoshimasa accidentally broke his favorite tea bowl, which held significant sentimental value to him. Distraught over the loss, he sent the broken bowl to China to have it repaired. In China, the prevalent method of repairing ceramics was to use staples or adhesive to mend the broken pieces. However, when the tea bowl was returned to Yoshimasa, it was repaired with unsightly staples, which greatly displeased him.

Unsatisfied with the Chinese repair method, Yoshimasa sought a more aesthetically pleasing solution. He turned to Japanese craftsmen and artists, tasking them with finding a way to mend the broken pottery in a way that would enhance its beauty rather than hide the damage.

Inspired by the philosophy of wabi-sabi, which finds beauty in imperfections and impermanence, the craftsmen developed the kintsugi technique. Instead of hiding the cracks and breaks, they used lacquer mixed with gold or other precious metals to mend the pottery, creating stunning golden seams that highlighted the repaired areas. This new method not only restored the functionality of the broken objects but also turned them into unique works of art, celebrating their history and the journey they had undergone.

Kintsugi quickly gained popularity and became a cherished art form in Japan. It embodied the principles of wabi-sabi, emphasizing the value of imperfection and impermanence. The repaired pottery, with its golden seams, became a symbol of resilience, transformation, and the beauty that can emerge from brokenness.

To this day, kintsugi continues to be practiced and admired around the world. Its message of embracing imperfections and finding beauty in the broken resonates with many people, not just as an art form but also as a metaphor for life itself. The story of Ashikaga Yoshimasa and his broken tea bowl remains an important part of the history and evolution of kintsugi, symbolizing the birth of a technique that has endured for centuries.