What is Kintsugi?
Kintsugi is the traditional Japanese technique of using lacquer and gold to repair damaged parts of ceramics that are chipped or cracked.
Gold is used only for the final touches. If silver is used instead of gold, it is called “Gin-tsugi.” There are also some other methods, such as “Urushi- tsugi” (which uses lacquer without any metals), “Tomo-tsugi” (which uses a color of lacquer that matches the damaged pottery), and “Yobi-tsugi” (which uses pieces from different ceramics to fill in the chipped area).
Archeologists found his method of using lacquer to fix pottery in the excavated earthenware from Japan’s Neolithic Jomon Period. However, the current method of using gold and other materials as a decoration developed with the spread of the tea ceremony culture during the Muromachi period (around the 14 th –16 thc century). It was an era when people did not have nearly as many possessions as we do today, so they valued their things and repaired them for continuous use. Furthermore, from the tea ceremony perspective, the repair marks were seen as a thing of beauty that added to the items’ aesthetic value.
Kintsugi, is sometimes called Kin-tsukuroi or simply Naoshi, but “Kintsugi” is the word most often used. Our shop’s name ZEN is taken from the character 繕-Tsukuroi which means to mend or fix, and is also read “ZEN”.
Wash off any dirt from the pottery. round off the cracked edges with sandpaper. Apply raw lacquer to the surface to be adhered and wipe it off immediately. This is a sort of base coating for the following steps. If necessary, apply masking tape at this stage.
2. Attach the broken pieces
Apply Mugi-urushi (lacquer kneaded with wheat flour and water) to the cracked area, attach and let solidify. *Mugi means wheat in Japanese.
↓ Dry it for about 1-2 weeks.
When dry, scrape off any excess lacquer to make the surface smooth.
3. Fill in chips and dents
If there is a big chip or dent, fill it with Kokusou-urushi (a mix of Mugi-urushi and wood powder). For a small chip or dent, Sabi-urushi (a mix of grindstone powder, lacquer, and water) is used
↓ Dry it for about a week.
When dry, scrape the excess or smooth it off with sandpaper. If it doesn’t become completely smooth after one try, then repeat the process of applying the Sabi-urushi.
At this point, the pieces are stuck back together, and the chips have been filled, so the damaged pottery should be back to its original form. The time it takes for the actual work until now is about 2-3 days. However, since we need drying time in between each step, it takes between 2 weeks and a month in total. High temperature and humidity are necessary to dry lacquer properly. Therefore, we sometimes need to put the pottery in a box to maintain the humidity level. This is quite the opposite of drying laundry.
4. Intermediate coating
Apply refined lacquer, Seisei-urushi, to the part being worked on, and let it dry for a day.
Refined lacquer is made by stirring raw lacquer to a uniform consistency (called Nayashi) and then heating it to remove excess moisture (called Kurome). It is also called Suki-urushi because of its transparent amber color. This lacquer is strained through a paper filter before use to remove even the tiniest dust particles. Once it is dry, polish it with sandpaper until smooth and apply refined lacquer again. Repeat this process several times as needed.
Apply finishing lacquer. Sprinkle the desired metal powder such as gold or silver on the lacquer. After leaving it for a while, remove the excess powder.
Red colored Bengara-urushi (mixed with red iron oxide) used as the base for the golden powder or black colored lacquer used as the base for silver powder can improve the metal powder color.
Once the gold powder has been applied and dried sufficiently, apply one last coat of raw lacquer and polish it.
Use special tools such as Menou 瑪 瑙 (made from agata stone) or Taiga鯛牙(made from snapper teeth) for polishing. The surface of the metal powder changes from matte to lustrous when polished.
At ZEN, we use safe materials based on our ancient methods because we wish our Kintsugi pottery to be used in your everyday life.
In addition to the lacquer, we use only natural materials, such as flour, wood powder, grindstone powder, and gold and silver powder. Nowadays, synthetic lacquers, paints that do not use pure gold, and other materials enable us to enjoy Kintsugi more easily. Synthetic lacquer has advantages such as not causing the skin problems that natural lacquer does and the potential for glass tableware repair that you cannot accomplish with natural lacquer.