In a society that demands flawlessness, we are creatures of imperfection. How can we not be? There is no journey through this world without accumulating nicks and scrapes. There is no safety in the crash course of living. We are all left with scars—covering our body like a roadmap through our past, weighing on our mind and soul, reminding us daily of how imperfect we are.
How we continue to grow, embracing our scars and finding new leases on life, define us as humans. These same principles are the bedrock of an ancient Japanese art and philosophy called kintsugi. And in kintsugi, our scars find an unlikely kindred spirit—broken pottery.
The story begins with a fifteenth-century shogun named Ashikaga Yoshimasa. After breaking his favorite teacup, Yoshimasa shipped the shards to China for repair. When the cup was returned, it had been mended with coarse and impractical metal staples. Distraught, the shogun gave the cup to Japanese craftsmen, who instead of attempting to render the cup perfect again, filled the cracks with lacquered resin and gold powder. The result was unique and powerful—the cup was not simply restored, but transformed into a new and more beautiful object. The art of Kintsugi, which literally means ‘joined with gold,’ became a longstanding tradition in Japan for ceramic and pottery repair.
The transformative power of kintsugi extended to philosophy. It is tied intimately with the concept of wabi-sabi, which is a Buddhist worldview that advocates finding beauty in “the imperfect, the impermanent, and incomplete.” It preaches of the inherent value of items that we may simply throw away otherwise. With each mended piece of broken pottery, kintsugi acknowledges the trauma that led to the repair—it does not attempt to replicate the original object. Instead, it resurrects the item, highlighting the cracks with alluring gold or silver, creating an entirely new—and often stronger—object out of something that was shattered.
So, how do we handle our scars?
First, it is important to acknowledge that there is a deep and unsettling impermanence that comes with life in the Western world. Very often, we exist as consumers, quick to upgrade everything from cell phones to romantic partners. We throw away what we don’t use. We rid ourselves of possessions that break or start to show signs of wear. If we repair anything, we strive to hide the original damage, instead of seeking to restore the original, pristine form of the broken object. Now, no one is advocating using a gold resin to fix your next fender-bender, but we must understand that this mindset extends to how we treat ourselves.
We plan our lives dreaming of perfection. We aim for our ideal careers, for success with our chosen partners, for a happy and flourishing home life. And yet, life rarely works out as planned. Jobs come and go, heartbreak eventually finds us, families face difficult times. Disillusion is a common companion when perfection is our only benchmark—and, in the process, we pick up scars as we journey through our lives.
Through the teachings of kintsugi we know that we are worthy of success and love. We are not simply ‘damaged goods,’ nor are we the result of our failures. We are beautiful in our imperfections. We grow stronger because of the shortcomings and hardships we’ve encountered in our lives, understanding that those unfortunate events—and those scars we carry from them—helped re-mold us into unique and thriving individuals. The art of kintsugi is the art of transformative healing—of being reborn through tragedy—whether for pottery or the human soul.
Kintsugi is also related to the Japanese concept of mushin or ‘no mind.’ Mushin is a state of being where the mind is not preoccupied by any thought or emotion and is a traditional goal in the practice of both martial arts and Zen meditation. It is about existing in a mental space that is unbiased and easily adaptable.
In our daily lives, achieving mushin means that we not only reject the Western idea of ‘negative damage’ but are willing to accept change, in all forms. Mushin is an ideal critical to the philosophy of kintsugi. It understands that trauma and change in our life is part of our history, a formative experience that forges our identity, rather than something to cover-up and disguise.
The kintsugi technique for pottery is also an invaluable philosophy for a world demanding of perfection.
It preaches resilience and faith.
It urges us not to simply throw away broken objects.
It teaches us to embrace our scars.
Team Matcha Kari