“The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places” (E. Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms).
When Japan was a country of wars and samurai, and victories were rewarded with pieces of land, one shōgun decided to do something different. Instead of land, he would give precious tea bowls from his collection and teach the art of tea ceremony. What was once available only to royals, noble and rich, became available to warriors, giving a way to a samurai way of tea ceremony.
At the times of war, tea ceremony was a moment of peace, a once in a lifetime experience, where a small group of people would share the same tea bowl. The same tea bowl would make its circle from hands to hands to show that there was no war in the tea room, and to celebrate the first and probably the last time in a lifetime with that exact same group of people.
If received from shogun for a victory, it had to be something of great value. And if that something is as delicate and fragile as a tea bowl, what do you do when it gets broken?
A victory in war can rarely be reached without scars (please remember, we are talking about times of samurai), and a scar was something a warrior was proud of and wanted to show rather than to hide.
A crack in a tea bowl was like a scar, but it did not mean that the tea bowl would be thrown away and forgotten like we often do nowadays. Received for a victory in war, it was simply too precious and meant too much to be thrown away just because it got cracked or broken. In order to get such tea bowls back to life, the art of “healing” appeared. If it was a time of peace, perhaps no one would have ever bothered to put a value on the scar and thus preserve and fix cracked or broken tea bowls. If it was a time of peace, perhaps today we would know nothing about Kintsugi.
Kintsugi is a Japanese art of fixing broken objects by using Japanese urushi lacquer and maki-e (sprinkling golden dust) techniques. While it may sound simple, the real Kintsugi takes years and even decades to master, and only some of Kintsugi examples out there in the world are real, done carefully following the traditional way and techniques.
Layer after layer of fine Japanese urushi lacquer, days of drying in between each of them, filing and polishing till it gets so smooth that you cannot feel the crack anymore when you touch it, then even more layers of lacquer, even more days of drying in between, till eventually you get to a final stage of covering the broken and healed parts with gold dust (of course, followed by drying and polishing once again).
They say that repaired objects become very durable and the same place would not crack or break again.
And here I am, drinking my first New Year’s tea from a tea bowl that was brought back to life from pieces dating back to 16th century, all joined together with golden scars that like tree branches reach for the sun and suddenly burst with pink blossom to a new life after a long winter, a tea bowl that made its way from the times of wars and samurai right into my hands for yet another “once in a lifetime” moment.
We may not be samurai, and it may not be a time of war, but a random group of people that gathered from all over the world for a Kintsugi workshop in Tokyo, is equally unlikely to meet over tea again.