Geraldine Limpo 2024

January-February 2024


By Geraldine Limpo

Last Friday, January 12, my daughter and I attended a kintsugi workshop not far from her apartment in London. After choosing a ceramic bowl to work with and donning an apron, face mask, and hand gloves, ten of us students huddled around a long table in front of our British teacher, Brandon, who kicked off the session with self-introductions, an icebreaker, and a short history of kintsugi—the Japanese art of mending broken ceramic with lacquer and gold powder.


The first activity involved breaking our bowls. Following Brandon’s instructions, I placed my bowl on a hard surface covered with felt so that it stood on its rim, covered it with felt, and began to hammer flatly on a specific point on the bowl’s rim facing me—first with light taps that progressively became heavier until I heard a sharp clink, signaling the crack. Taking one of the bowl’s halves and placing it rim-side down on the felt surface, I covered its foot and commenced the same hammering technique on one point on the bowl’s foot until I heard another crack. I continued to do this sequence until my bowl was reduced to five broken pieces.


The second activity was attaching pieces, two at a time, via a cold weld. I vigorously mixed a strong adhesive compound for 15 seconds and allowed it to harden. Using a slim wooden tongue depressor, I applied the adhesive to the cracked surface of one piece and waited for it to cure before flushing the matching piece into place, holding it steadily for minutes while the adhesive hardened.

The third activity focused on flicking gold powder into the surfaces of the mend with the use of a flat brush. After passing some more time, Brandon instructed us to sweep gold powder onto the mend. As if by magic, the cracks that evidence the mending glistened before our eyes.


“Kintsugi” translates from Nihongo to English as joining with gold. Its origins recall how a feudal lord daimyo during the Edo period (1603–1868) asked his artisans to mend his favorite porcelain piece in a manner “better” than the Chinese way of using metal staples. During this time period, the craft of lacquering the surfaces of food containers and drinking vessels to make them impermeable had already evolved greatly. Painted screens were being lacquered too to make their surfaces catch the light; these were sent as tributes via emissaries to foreign countries where they were dearly treasured. Lacquer is a sticky substance, so it may have been natural for the artisans to divine its use as adhesive. The obvious advantage of mending with lacquer over metal staples lies in keeping the porcelain impermeable to water. The additional benefit of sprinkling gold powder onto the lacquer as it hardens lies in adding a distinctive and elegant decorative element.


Mistaken as a craft, kintsugi is considered an art form. It resonates with the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, which, loosely translated, refers to the acceptance of the fleeting and the imperfect.


In mending via kintsugi, movements are small and precise; furthermore, much care is taken in executing steps. Apply an uneven adhesive compound, and the resulting crack is too thick and may not look elegant. Distract oneself, and the pieces don’t fit perfectly, resulting in an uneven surface. Flick the gold powder carelessly, and the brush hairs touch the adhesive compound. Hurry through the steps and disregard the curing time of the adhesive, and the pieces fall apart under light pressure. The elegant kintsugi pieces at the Victoria & Albert and British Museums have even and smooth surfaces that belie their previously broken states, and their golden veins are thin like strands of hair.

“The world breaks everyone, 

then some become strong at the broken places.”  (Ernest Hemingway)

Clockwise on the table: bowl, bottle of water, scrappers, gold powder, adhesive compound, flat brush

First activity: breaking the bowl on its rim

Bowl broken into two 

Kintsugi is written to be a meditative or spiritual experience. Some kintsugi artists narrate how their art practice resonates with their philosophy; for others, kintsugi is a response to a personal crisis. Here in London, kintsugi workshops are offered as social group activities and even corporate team-building sessions. While the ten of us participants had conversations with one another during the workshop, the bulk of our time was spent concentrating on performing the steps as accurately as we could manage independently of one another. As I worked on mending my bowl, I could not help but reflect on the seeming imperfections of my life, the difficulty of accepting my brokenness, but also how twists and setbacks have contributed to molding me into the human being that I have evolved into. I am quite certain that my daughter and eight classmates were in reveries of their own too.


This workshop we attended is a simplified version of the real kintsugi art form that requires more steps using different kinds of colored lacquer at several stages, various techniques of applying gold powder, methods of scraping extraneous marks on the ceramic, and longer curing time. In Japan, one attends weekly kintsugi classes because it takes months to mend a single ceramic. Nevertheless, this (kintsugi) taster workshop in London is successful in raising awareness for Japanese aesthetics. Kintsugi proposes how beauty can be celebrated by emphasizing, instead of hiding, brokenness. And that doing so does not happen instantly, but over a considerable period.

Hammering on the foot of the bowl to break into more pieces

Second activity: mending the first two pieces 

About to check how to flush the third piece into the first two pieces

“Change is the only constant in life.” (Heraclitus)

Pieces mended through kintsugi are no longer food-grade. They cannot be washed in the dishwasher or placed inside a microwave. In other words, the bowl that I hammered into pieces so I could mend it via kintsugi lost its function as a food container. It is now merely a decorative object. This quickly inspires another reflection: while I can mend, for example, a relationship, it is much wiser to care deeply for it so it does not break.


Mending runs in our Filipino veins too. We stitch loose buttons and patch holes in our favorite clothing pieces. We repurpose decorative tin cans and well-shaped glass jars. How many homes have outfitted old Singer sewing machines into dainty tea tables or dressers? How many of us cut squares from our children’s shirts to sew quilts? By nature, we are nostalgic. We preserve things that remind us of the people we love. Perhaps the daimyo’s porcelain that was mended via kintsugi was a vessel of special memories too.

“The scars are the design. Your attention is drawn to the cracks and how they are mended. The beauty is in the brokenness.” (Justine Earley)

Compound adhesive in the foreground.

My bowl, after mending