Mar 24, 2009

Reduce, reuse, recyle and repair

“There was a Chajin of Sakai who had a tea caddy called Sessan and he used it when Rikyu came. But Rikyu thought nothing of it so its owner smashed it against the trivet on the hearth. Another guest took away the pieces and put them together again and gave a chaji to which he invited Rikyu. This time the master praised the caddy, so the host returned it to its former owner and told him to take great care of it. Later on someone bought it for a thousand pieces of gold, and noticing that the joins were very rough proposed to have it mended again more neatly and submitted it to Kobori Enshu for his opinion. “If you do that you will spoil it altogether,” was his decision, “for that was just why Rikyu liked it.” ~from Cha-no-yu, by A.L. Sadler

Today in our disposable society, when something is broken, we toss it out without even thinking about it. Technology and planned obsolescence makes it cheaper and more convenient to throw things out and buy new ones, especially with more features, bells and whistles on it. I had a VCR and it stopped working one day. I took it to a repair shop and the guy told me that it wasn’t worth fixing because it would cost me $150, when I could go a buy a new one with a more sophisticated remote control gizmos for $49.00. I was told my old sewing machine (1940s model) was worth less than $15, and yet it costs $85 for a cleaning and adjustment. The technician told me to junk it because he’d likely spend at least a month trying to track down a similar model so he could cannibalize parts for it as it is no longer manufactured and I would end up paying him for his time as well. I have two or three old cell phones that worked fine until the cell phone company no longer supported them and I had to upgrade to a new one.

But, going green, there is a consciousness of not just recycling, but repair and reusing things that were broken, discarded or no longer usable. Just like the depression of my parent’s era, in this economic climate, there are more people who see repairing things as a way to save money, and get more use out of what you already have. It may be even cool again to be known as the guy who can repair anything. There is even a site that seeks to make repair the fourth ‘R’: reduce, reuse, recycle, and repair. The repair manifesto.

In my classes we are learning chabako (traveling tea set). I have a set with matching ceramics with a bamboo desgin, but the chakin tsutsu (wiping cloth tube) met the floor rather violently last week and was shattered into many pieces. In the spirit of Rikyu’s guest, I gathered as many pieces as I could find and repaired with a little gold powder in the joints. Now I have a chakin tsutsu that no longer matches the set, but has an interesting story.


  1. Margie,
    Thank you for the informative post.
    I would like to know more about repairing tea vessels. I have some rather nice cups for sencha which I use daily and also get used by the three and six year old. So I would love to know your insights on repairing such artifacts... Just in case...

    Thanks for your efforts,

  2. Jordan,
    Thank you for your comment. I repaired this chakin tsutsu with epoxy mixed with gold. It is not used to hold liquid so I don't know how water tight it is. I don't know either if epoxy, when it is cured, can be food safe either. I have seen some repaired matcha bowls. They used a mixture of lacquer and other things along with the gold that made it water tight as well as safe to drink tea from it.