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Kintsugi allegedly goes back to the Shōgun ashikaga yoshimasa, who promoted the higashiyama culture (jap. 東山文化, Higashiyama bunka, literally: „east mountain culture“), one of Japan‘s artistic golden ages in the 15th century. Among his passions was also the tea ceremony.


It is said that when his favourite tea bowl broke, he sent it to China for repair and was disappointed by the result: the metal clamps disturbed the beauty of the beloved drinking bowl too much. He asked the artists and masters of his court to develop a method of reassembling the shards in a more aesthetic way. This developed into the „golden joinery“, in which the cracks are harmoniously combined with the mended object to form a new work of art.



In a multi-stage and long-lasting process, broken or cracked ceramics and porcelain are repaired. The Japanese varnish urushi (Japanese: 漆) is applied in several layers, dusted with either gold or silver pigments and then polished. The Urushi is mixed with animal glue to join the shards, Tonoko (Japanese clay) and Urushi are used for missing parts. The process takes weeks, as the drying time of traditional Urushi is several days.


Modern technology uses an epoxy resin adhesive instead of Urushi, into which gold pigment is mixed. With this technique, different colour pigments can also be used. The processing time is considerably shortened by the fast drying time of the adhesive.


What engineer Reiner Pilz called "upcycling" in a 1994 magazine article is perhaps the European answer to the Japanese Wabi-Sabi philosophy. He writes about the recycling situation in Germany at the time: "Recycling, I call downcycling. [...] What we need is upcycling, which gives old things more value, not less."

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