'Imperfect' Japanese art form kintsugi teaches us to embrace our flaws

ByJason Beal KGO logo
Thursday, May 18, 2023
'Imperfect' Japanese art form teaches us to embrace our flaws
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and the ancient Japanese art of kintsugi with Maki Aizawa reminds us that even our imperfections can be perfect.

SONOMA, Calif. (KGO) -- In her Sonoma home, artist Maki Aizawa holds a broken plate.

"When something breaks, we tend to throw it away," she said. "But we don't have to throw it away and don't have to feel bad about it too long."

She adds, "Everything is not perfect. We look at things and even if it's imperfect we can really admire or adore the object."

Aizawa repairs ceramic pottery using an ancient Japanese method of kintsugi, mending together the broken pieces using adhesives and putties, and decorating with a golden powder. The art of kintsugi dates back to over 600 years ago.

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Maki grew up in Japan, where she was surrounded by art. Her parents operated a Kimono-making school out of their home, where floral-arranging, calligraphy, and music lessons were also taught. She came to the United States as a college student.

"Society is telling you as an artist, 'How do you make a living? Art is like a hobby.'" She then asked herself, "Why don't I do what I love to do?"

She finds art to be a healing experience.

"Creating something yourself, you are absolutely focusing your attention," she said. "And it's a form of meditation too. It's not something that anyone else is telling you to do."

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and the art of kintsugi serves as the perfect metaphor to teach us that we can heal, even after traumatic experiences.

"Looking at kintsugi is that even if it's broken, you can repair the piece and it's imbuing new life," Aizawa says.

The traditional method of kintsugi uses sumac sap to connect the broken pieces and real gold powder to decorate. The process can take anywhere from six months to two years, or even longer.

"It's such a very precious process," Aizawa explains. "Modern kintsugi started about 12 years ago, using modern materials. We are using resin lacquer and using brass powder and epoxy putty. We can finish completing in one hour."

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Maki started holding kintsugi workshops during the pandemic.

"We were teaching one person each time to use the metaphor of kintsugi to take care of each person," she said.

She's now able to hold in-person workshops for multiple people at a time.

"Everyone comes to the workshop for different reasons," Aizawa said. "They are openly speaking about their piece and there is a connection in the class between the participants. Philosophy of kintsugi, concept of kintsugi, is actually very uplifting. Looking at broken pieces is really horrible, and it could apply to your life in general, too. Something unexpected happens. It happens all the time. So how do you handle it?"

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She adds, "Everyone is so hard on themselves, including myself. We judge ourselves too much. Kintsugi is non-judgmental. Let's fix it. It's a happy mistake. I know I may sound so positive about everything but I just feel happier when everyone completes the piece."

For more information about Maki's kintsugi workshops, visit amu-arts.org/events/.

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