Residents of Kumamoto are still picking up the pieces after being rocked by a series of destructive earthquakes, and no doubt many of those pieces are shattered ceramics. Traditional Japanese table settings feature a multitude of small plates and bowls for individual dishes and diners, and the country’s rich tea and flower arrangement cultures mean that most homes also have a collection of ceramic cups, pots, and vases.
While you could outfit your entire home with stuff from the 100 yen store, some of the ceramics broken in the Kumamoto quakes are antiques or heirlooms with considerable sentimental value. Still, a cracked container has no function anymore, so unless victims of the disaster want sake dribbling down their hands every time they pour themselves a drink, it’s time to throw those fractured cups away along with the rest of their damaged kitchenware right?
Actually, it’s not, thanks to people like Kunio Nakamura. Nakamura runs the Roku Jigen cafe in Tokyo, a gathering place for lovers of literature and music. Another passion of Nakamura’s is "kintsugi," a traditional Japanese pottery repair method.
"Kintsugi" is often translated as “golden joinery.” However, the word could also be interpreted as “golden succession,” which gives an insight into the philosophy behind it, which accepts that after enough use, pottery is going to get cracked and broken. "Kintsugi" celebrates those character-enhancing fractures by patching the pieces back together with bonding lacquer mixed with gold or other eye-catching precious metals.
As a lover of the arts, Nakamura has been putting his "kintsugi" skills to use helping others for years. To this day, he repairs pieces damaged in the 2011 earthquake that devastated Japan’s Tohoku region. Nakamura is also skilled in "kyonaoshi," in which pottery is repaired in a way which minimizes the visibility of the damage sustained.
Following last week’s Kumamoto earthquakes, Nakamura has been sending out tweets reminding people not to hastily toss out their cracked and broken pottery. Instead, he encourages them to tape the smaller pieces to the larger ones and store the bundle in a plastic bag. Once the more pressing recovery operations settle down, Nakamura himself plans to travel to homes in Kumamoto and offer his services, free of charge, to those with broken ceramics.
Still, past a certain extent of damage pottery becomes unrepairable. Even then, though, Nakamura implores people to keep the broken pieces. While the dish may never be made whole again, the fragments can be recrafted into other items, such as chopstick rests.
So just like it’s important for the people of Kumamoto to hang on to hope in these trying times, so too should they hang on to their broken ceramics.
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