What People Don't know About the Differences in Kintsugi
Since 2020, the popularity of kintsugi has sharply increased not only in Japan but also in many other countries. The number of people who are aware of the existence of kintsugi keeps growing day by day.
Although kintsugi seems to be more present than ever in media, it remains pretty complicated to find comprehensive information about kintsugi outside of Japan. And, in a lot of cases, people are led to believe that kintsugi simply consists in gluing broken plates with golden glue.
This lack of information can sometimes lead to misunderstandings or even regrets. Depending on the type of object you wish to repair and the use you plan to make of it, the most suitable choice of kintsugi technique will be different. I have decided to write this article to help people interested in kintsugi repair have a clearer view of the available options so that they can choose for themselves the technique that suits the most their project... and avoid having any regret !
Kintsugi : An Art Form With a Long History
From the 15th century, when kintsugi was born, until recently, kintsugi had been solely done using natural materials. There are sometimes differences in the methods used from craftsman to craftsman, but the main ingredient used was always natural lacquer.
Over the last few decades, however, technology has rapidly developed and numerous synthetic materials have been invented, which has contributed to making our daily lives easier. In this context, synthetic glue mixed with golden pigments started to be used to repair broken objects. It became known as "modern kintsugi", and the original kintsugi technique using natural lacquer was then renamed "traditional kintsugi" or "real-urushi kintsugi."
There is a reason for this distinction. Each kintsugi method has its own advantages and disadvantages. It is important to know them before entrusting objects you hold dear to any repair shop or purchasing the first kit you see pop up online. Too many customers had objects they held dear repaired with modern kintsugi, only to ask us a few months later to redo the repair with traditional kintsugi. Knowledge is power, and it can also save you a lot of time and worries in the long run.
Differences Between Modern Kintsugi and Traditional Kintsugi
Let’s now have a closer look at each technique of kintsugi. The newly developed "modern kintsugi" is fast and inexpensive because it uses fast-drying synthetic resins such as epoxy. It is very convenient.
Recently, a synthetic product called "new urushi" has also been introduced in Japan. Unlike what its name may suggest, this product does not contain any natural lacquer, also called "urushi" in Japanese. "New urushi" is simply a synthetic lacquer that only imitates urushi. It is usually said that this new product is less likely to cause allergies than natural lacquer. However, there have actually been reports of people getting rashes from using this product overseas so I would advise caution when using this produc.
Another thing to be wary of would be food safety. The vast majority of synthetic resins do not meet food safety requirements or have not even been tested. There are strong concerns regarding the use of synthetic resins on objects used to serve food or drinks. In addition, as chemical substances, synthetic resins tend to leave behind strong chemical odors.
The other kintsugi method is traditional kintsugi, which has been practiced since ancient times and is very durable. It exclusively uses natural lacquer made from the sap of the lacquer tree and natural materials for repairs. Food safe, traditional kintsugi is suitable to repair pieces of tableware you intend to keep using to serve food or drinks. The best part is that you can experience a traditional approach that has been handed down from artisan to artisan for about 500 years.
However, traditional kintsugi also has a few shortcomings. Compared to synthetic glues, natural lacquer takes a lot more of time to harden. It also requires warm temperatures and humidity to harden properly. Traditional kintsugi repair forces you to slow down, there is no shortcut. It can be a good or a bad thing according to whom you ask.
Another point that is important to mention is the necessity to cover your skin as much as possible when handling Japanese lacquer. If you forget to Iar rubber gloves, you run the risk of getting strong skin irritations.
Cost wise, traditional kintsugi repair requires specific ingredients and tools, and the overall cost tends to be relatively higher than that of modern kintsugi.
As you can see, the two kintsugi techniques have very different characteristics. It is up to you to choose the one that suits the best your repair project.
Doing Traditional Kintsugi in a Fast-Paced World
With Tsugu Tsugu Inc, I have been developing products and offering services related to traditional kintsugi.
At first, I wondered if I could really maintain our business with only traditional kintsugi, which is time-consuming and labor-intensive. I often felt conflicted, wondering whether I had not better focused on modern kintsugi... However, I always came to the same conclusion: I had to keep going. I was dertermined to share the charm of authentic Japanese traditions with people around the world, and support Japanese artisans. So I stuck to kintsugi using real lacquer. Nearly two years have now passed since the creation of Tsugu Tsugu Inc. , and we are still going strong, focusing on traditional kinstugi.
One day, one clients asked me to organize a workshop for modern kintsugi for a one-time event with many children. I accepted, but I made sure to use modern kintsugi to make accessories only, not to repair or decorate pieces tableware.
When the day of the event came, it turned out that the number of customers who wanted to join a traditional kintsugi workshop was much larger than the number of people who wanted to do modern kintsugi. In addition, at Tsugu Tsugu, we have a growing number of requests to redo repairs previously done with modern kintsugi. The clients in question usually had no idea there were several kintsugi techniques and were highly disappointed when they realized they could not use their repaired plate or bowl anymore because it was not food safe. In addition, although it is a question of preference, there is a clear difference in appearance between traditional and modern kintsugi.
While I think that modern kintsugi can be useful in some cases, I strongly and confidently recommend that you make sure to use traditional kintsugi for objects you wish to keep using ans cherishing for many years.
At the very least, I believe it is very important to be aware of the differences between the two types of kintsugi so that you can to choose the one that suits you best, not matter if you plan to do the repair yourself or ask a professional kintsugi artist.
If you are interested in trying your hand at traditional kintsugi, I would be happy to help you. As a trained kintsugi artist, I would be delighted to help you embark on your journey with kintsugi.