I dropped a salad plate that shattered into a million pieces the other day. It was given to me years ago by a master sushi chef and mentor, Osada-san. He had made the plate himself.
I don’t usually get sentimental about objects, so when the tears came, it surprised me. Yet even in that moment I knew it wasn’t just about a broken plate.
Some of our challenges feel too daunting, our desperation as silent and infectious as the very thing we know caused it. Relationship problems. Financial crises. Mental health issues. Losses—of employment, shelter, personal security, self-esteem, even of loved ones. Heartbreak in its countless guises.
And of the virtues declaring itself today in all its human splendour—kindness, patience, courage, charity, love etc.—the most consequential of all may be: resilience.
Kintsugi is the 400-year-old Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with powdered gold. Every break, whatever its kind or cause, is unique. And rather than concealing it, kintsugi artists incorporate the “scars” as a part of the design solution. The new product becomes stronger, more resilient, than it had been before.
“It’s a beautiful idea, but beautiful ideas don’t shatter. Plates do. So do our lives, our hearts. Reality is what is fragile.”
But we have entirely missed the point of kintsugi. By mending broken plates, these people weren’t trying to construct a metaphor—they weren’t poets.
Their work wasn’t some coded message for “you can achieve if you simply believe”—they weren’t cheerleaders.
The practitioners of kintsugi were scientists, reconstructive surgeons. They aspired to see things clearly.
And this is what they saw: brittle shards of broken pottery that needed fixing, resilience-building. Their solution: copy the ways of the human anatomy, of man’s indomitable spirit.