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Damaged goods: Kintsugi craftsman repairs plates and people

Kintsugi, the ancient Japanese art of repairing broken pottery, is not only giving damaged plates and bowls another life, but teaching everyday Australians about the beauty in broken things.

In Japanese ‘Kin’ means gold and ‘tsugi’ means to connect and to inherit, thus Kintsugi means to repairs broken pottery with lacquer and gold. The art of Kintsugi can be traced back to 16th century Japan.

It has been passed on for generations along with a Japanese philosophy of recognizing beauty in imperfection and taking care of things by seeing their scars and damage as precious aspects.

Japanese-born Sydneysider Jun Morooka started Kintsugi Australia, his Kintsugi school in Sydney, two years ago, having completed a year’s full-time training with five different teachers in Japan to learn the techniques of the art form, which transforms broken pottery into treasure. 

Kintsugi Australia
Jun Morooka, the kintsugi teacher in Sydney
Kintsugi Australia

In 2017, Jun daringly sold his busy Japanese restaurant in Manly, which had been his long-cherished dream since his arrival in Sydney in 1984, to train to become Kintsugi craftsman.

“When I was working at a restaurant, I tried to be as quick as possible in everything to serve customers better,” he says. “But now, I can’t rush. I need to be calm and see both myself and my work with an objective eye. I take time now.”

Jun says that the craft is growing increasingly popular, and has seen his own perception of the process transform from very literally putting plates back together, to being a more celebratory symbol of loved ones or life experiences.

“When I was working at the restaurant and self-teaching Kintsugi, mainly the technique was for just repairing many chipped plates there,” Jun says.  “But after I got more serious about Kintsugi and started taking repair orders, I started to see people celebrate lives of loved ones through Kintsugi. Kintsugi plays such an important role in their healing processes from the hardship they faced.”

Kintsugi Australia
Kintsugi Australia

‘Being broken doesn’t mean being worth less’

Jun shares a few stories of his customers, who he says have approached Kintsugi not just for its beautiful results, but frequently for symbolic reasons.

One woman asked Jun to repair a broken plate to give to her recently divorced sister, as she wanted to tell her sister that being “broken doesn’t mean being worth less.” 

Another woman bought a Kintsugi-treated plate for her cancer-stricken father as a Father’s Day gift to celebrate his life. She remembered that he had once said that his body was like Kintsugi as he went through multiple operations.

“I think that repairing things is generally wonderful, giving broken goods another life,” says Jun.

“What I like about Kintsugi is that you can rediscover the beauty and value of the broken goods little by little while taking each repairing steps. Humans are same. When we get sick or heartbroken, you recover little by little.  We use gold at the end, and I like it.  It’s kind of celebratory.”

‘When I see beautiful pottery, I’m tempted to break it’

Jun’s Kintsugi classes attract a different type of customer these days.

“When I started classes, most people came to the class to learn this particular technique. But nowadays, more people come to experience the repairing process as an activity and some people do it with someone special,” Jun says.

Kintsugi Australia
Kintsugi Australia

According to Jun, many couples choose to attend his class together to celebrate their 20th anniversaries, which are often traditionally celebrated with china.

“I guess that they regard chipped china as their relationship and would like to celebrate it together by repairing it with Kintsugi.”

Jun has also started regular Kintsugi classes in Melbourne in September this year and plans to hold classes in Newcastle, NSW. 

As the skills of his Kintsugi students in Sydney are improving, Jun hopes that he can have a student exhibition sometime soon to celebrate both Japanese culture and the journey of each student.

Jun also confesses a secret desire he has developed since taking up the craft. 

“When I’m walking on a street and see beautiful pottery, I’m tempted to break it,” he laughs. “I just wonder how wonderful it would be for me to repair the lovely pottery with Kintsugi and I imagine how beautiful it would become after the repair.”

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