longing for you,
into a thousand pieces—
I wouldn't lose one.
~Izumi Shikibu (974-1034)
Recently, the traditional Japanese art of repairing broken ceramics with a mixture of lacquer and powdered gold has become quite well known in the internetosphere. We can even buy inexpensive kintsugi-kits online, making what was once rarefied, readily accessible to anyone. Of course authentic Japanese kintsugi with the use of real lacquer and gold does remain quite a rarefied art, but the spirit of kintsugi can be applied broadly through the use of other materials. So when my cat’s bowl—which I bought at a small shop on Kawaramachi street in Kyoto—was broken, I was grateful to have instant access to inexpensive kintsugi-kits!
But why kintsugi? Why not throw away the broken? What is the merit of holding onto broken pieces when there are plenty of new and beautiful replacements? Why fuss with the inconvenience of sticky glue and uncontrollable gold powder, and waiting 24 hours for it all to dry? The well known answer is the aesthetic quality and value which emerges when the totality of loss, brokenness, and healing is embraced fully. An object, rather than defective, is seen to deepen in qualitative beauty. The fractured lines are not faulty nor hidden—they emerge as new elements of design and expressiveness.
Perhaps that is why Izumi Shikibu’s poetry written some one thousand years ago remains with us still. She treasures every single one of the one thousand pieces of her broken heart, conveying the depth of her love and longing. In a few lines, Shikibu invokes the timeless and transcendent spirit of kintsugi.
If we likewise treasure one another and our relationships, indeed, if we truly cherish our own hearts, we may find within ourselves the rarefied and priceless beauty of kintsugi. We may discover that in the end, we are the gold.