I am very sentimental about the objects in my life. Not just my grandmother’s amethyst cocktail ring or my first childhood drawings, but also the electric pencil sharpener I inherited from my mom and a ceramic pie plate I bought years ago at Goodwill and have used to bake for family and friends ever since. So when I got a text from my father saying that the pie plate had accidentally fallen and cracked into three pieces while on loan at my parents house, I was upset — perhaps a little too upset. But as I was mourning the plate, my dad and brother told me they had a plan: They had already begun putting the plate back together with the help of a kintsugi repair kit.
My brother had some basic knowledge of kintsugi that he learned from multiple trips to visit friends in Japan, some of whom are traditional Japanese ceramic enthusiasts. I had seen it in photos but never in real life. “Kintsugi is a traditional Japanese process of repairing ceramics with urushi lacquer (made from the sap of a tree) and gold powder,” says Nao Shaneyfelt, a kintsugi artist originally from Osaka, Japan. According to her, it’s an art form that has been practiced in Japan for over 500 years, one that can take a long time but eventually transforms broken tea cups and bowls you might otherwise throw away into something beautiful and useful again. There are thousands of kintsugi instructional videos you can watch on YouTube, Instagram, and Tiktok and lots of DIY kits that you can buy to try it out at home, including ones that ship from Japan and use real gold powder and authentic urushi lacquer, as well as others that make the process a little bit faster (and less expensive) with glue and gold pigment. Shaneyfelt advises that if you want your repaired ceramics to be food safe, you need to “make sure to purchase the kits that include real urushi lacquer and genuine gold or platinum powder.” Kits that use glue or epoxy should be used for decorative purposes only.
After getting my pie plate back from my brother, I was surprised to find that the visible repairs didn’t make me sad at all. In fact, the spiderweb of gold lines (and the effort I know went into them) make it more of a keepsake than it was before. I liked the new plate so much I asked my brother if I could have the remains of the kit. Since it comes with enough for 10 to 20 pieces, there was plenty left over and he was happy to give it to me.
For my first attempt, I decided to try it out on a sad little mug I had chipped while doing the dishes. (Kintsugi also works to fill in subtle chips on the rim of a cup or a bowl.) The kit we used comes with real urushi and gold powder, so while it was a slower process and a pricier one, I felt safe using it on something I plan to drink out of. The brand has its own tutorial video on YouTube with English subtitles, which I relied on heavily, rewinding over and over to watch certain techniques like removing any excess lacquer once it had dried or dusting on the gold powder with a fluffy bit of silk fibers. Also, urushi lacquer can cause skin irritation in some people, so I made sure to wear gloves and long sleeves the whole time I was working. Shaneyfelt recommends being patient and taking your time with each step or else the lacquer might not set correctly. She also says it’s best to brush on the urushi lightly and to repeat the process two to three times or more. “When you put too much urushi on at once, it will shrink and the surface will get wrinkly,” she warns. “After the gold powder is secured on the surface, rub the area with a tiny bit of vegetable oil so it will get shinier.”
In all, I spent about five hours repairing my chipped mug, not including the time it took the lacquer to dry. The slow and meditative process was nearly as rewarding as the charming (and now one-of-a-kind) results, letting me disconnect from my in-box and everything else on my to-do list for a few hours at a time. I’m still a total beginner, and though my finished mug, which I love, isn’t going to win any awards, that’s not the point: As Marie Kondo, who sells her own kintsugi kit (see below) told me, “Kintsugi perfectly captures the essence of wabi-sabi, which is all about experiencing beauty in simplicity and calmness.” By repairing things you love rather than throwing them away and buying something new, you create a relationship with the object — and imbue it with even more memories.
Etsy has tons of kintsugi kits for sale, but most of them are not authentic to the original art form and aren’t food safe. This one, however, which comes from Katsuya Shibata, a Japanese artisan with over 30 years of experience, is the real thing. It includes real urushi lacquer, genuine gold and silver powders, and an instruction manual in Japanese and English.
If you’d rather start with a kit that’s less expensive and easier to use, this one from Marie Kondo’s online store is perfect. It comes with two small bowls you get to break and repair so that you can practice your skill on things that don’t mean anything to you before moving on to the ones that do.
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