Puzzle Boxes - Japanese
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Puzzle Boxes - Japanese
Japanese Puzzle Boxes originate from Hakone, Japan
Some of the finest crafted puzzle boxes in the world are made in Japan. Puzzle boxes of the highest quality. Traditional Japanese puzzle boxes from Hakone. Himitsu-Bako means Secret Box in Japanese and over time these boxes became commonly known as a “Personal Secret Box”. Small Karakuri boxes also from Japan. Their ingenious mechanisms and baffling solutions never cease to amaze us! Our stock is changing all the time so keep an eye on this page. Many of these items are only available in very small quantities.
This history of the himitsu-bako, or puzzle box, starts more than 200 years ago in Hakone, Japan.
At first they were just small trinket boxes used for holding various small items like needle and thread (their difficulty to open kept these things safe from young children) or jewellery. But soon workers began making larger boxes to keep their tools safe. They could be used by samurai or warlords to send secret messages or for travellers to protect their belongings during journeys.
As they grew larger and more elaborate, they came to be known by other names too; sikake-bako or tei-bako literally meaning trick box or clever box.
But it wasn’t until the Meiji Period in the late 1800 that local artisans in Hakone took the plain puzzle box and applied the yosegi-zaiku, a mosaic-style type of wood artistry or handicraft that had been made in Hakone for more than 1000 years, in the Heian period. Yosegi-Zaiku is made from the great variety of trees in the Hakone region and is a type of inlaid mosaic woodwork unique to this area. It is made by gluing a series of intricate geometric shaped woods together and then slicing them into a veneer to make the design.
Takajiro Ohkawa, Tatsunosuke Okiyama and Mr. Kikukawa are credited with the creation of what we now know as the modern Japanese puzzle box.
While Hakone was always a tourist destination in is own right, with it’s famed hot springs, on the shores of Lake Ashi, almost at the foot of Mt Fuji, and surrounded by amazing forests, it was also a well-travelled route connecting Osaka and Tokyo, so the region definitely saw many tourists even as early as the nineteenth century. The himitsu-bako are intriguing and very decorative so they quickly became popular souvenirs for the tourists visiting Hakone.
Japanese puzzle boxes can only be opened if you know the correct sequence to unlock the compartment. Japanese puzzle boxes can only be opened if you know the correct sequence to unlock the compartment. Some of the easier trick boxes can have as few as four moves but we’ve had puzzles in stock with as many as 54 moves. The puzzler slides the sides of the box back and forth similar to a sliding block puzzle, but instead of rearranging tiles to make a picture, the correct sequence of moves will open the box. The Japanese Puzzle box will never open unless you follow the correct sequence of moves exactly.
And there’s even an example of a Japanese Puzzle Box in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory.
It was discovered by a civilian boilermaker, Robert Judge in one of the Japanese midget submarines which was recovered from Sydney Harbour after the attack of the night of 30-31 May 1942. Judge was specifically employed at Garden Island, Sydney to cut open the submarines with an oxy-acetylene torch. He noticed this box as he entered the interior of the submarine, secretly removed it, and retained it as a keepsake.
Japanese inlaid rectangular wooden puzzle or secret box, featuring an interwoven geometric Yosegi pattern on all four sides and on the face of the hidden drawer; a traditional coloured inlaid scene of Mount Fuji with boat and house on the sliding cover; and a pink rose and bird design on the base and on the sliding lid of the hidden drawer, all using veneer wood. The lid is removed by sliding the top half of the proper right side panel, which releases it. This reveals a box, half the depth of the whole. Pulling up the proper left side panel reveals a sliding drawer fitted with sliding lid nestled in the lower half of the box. The drawer face is equipped with a small round orange handle, probably made from celluloid.
The Fascinating History Of Japanese Puzzles
Japanese puzzles tend to be beautiful, intricate, and incredibly challenging. So much care and detail go into each design; it’s no wonder that Japan is one of the leading distributors of puzzles in the world. At Mr Puzzle, we’ve been long-time fans of Japanese puzzles, so we stock a wide range to cater for puzzle enthusiasts at all levels of experience. We wanted to share with you the rich history behind Japanese puzzles, so next time you attempt one, you’ll have a deep appreciation for the art in front of you.
The History of Japanese Puzzles
The Japanese wood puzzle box has a vibrant history starting in Hakone, Japan over 200 years ago. The boxes are called Himitsu-Bako, which translates to ‘secret box’, and were originally created to hold small items like jewellery. Over time, the size of the boxes grew to accommodate tools, swords, and belongings and they became known as sikake-bako (trick box) or tei-bako (clever box). In the late 19th century, local artists took the ancient mosaic wood art, yosegi-zaiku, and applied it to the little boxes giving them the stunning, intricate appearance we see today.
How Japanese Puzzle Boxes Are Made
A traditional Japanese wooden puzzle is made from beginning to end by a single Himitsu-Bako craftsperson, and they are not at all simple to create. There are no written instructions on how to build a Japanese wood puzzle box, so one must train under an apprenticeship with a real Himitsu-Bako craftsperson.
- The design. The craftsperson needs to consider carefully how to design the box. The larger the box, the harder it is to create a high-quality puzzle box. These boxes rely on sliding movements to work correctly, so the challenge is to ensure it isn’t too loose or too tight.
- The wood. The craftsperson will select their chosen wood, usually from the trees in the Hakone area, and cut it into the necessary pieces.
- The placement. Every time a piece of the puzzle is placed, the craftsperson will test the mechanical motions to ensure the puzzle can’t be cheated.
- Yosegi-Zaiku. Once the box is built, the intricate mosaic designs are added as the beautiful finishing touch.
Mr Puzzle’s Top 3 Japanese Puzzles
At Mr Puzzle, we’re fortunate enough to stock a range of breathtaking Japanese puzzles that would be the perfect addition to any collection.
- Karakuri Small Cube Puzzle Box. It’s hard to imagine fitting the mechanisms of a Japanese puzzle into a box so small, but these little puzzles prove it can be done. Perfect for hiding a ring, a jewel, or a small valuable item.
- The 6 Sun Japanese Puzzle Box. This is one of our largest puzzle boxes, and it requires 54 moves to open the box and an additional 1 action to unlock the secret compartment.
- The 4 Sun Japanese Puzzle Box. If 54 moves are too much, you can open this smaller puzzle box in 21 steps. This puzzle box exemplifies the beauty of the traditional Japanese wooden puzzle.
Head To Mr Puzzle For Japanese Puzzles Today!
At Mr Puzzle, we’ve been designing and selling puzzles since 1992, and we’ve been online longer than Google. Since 1998, we’ve been selling our range of challenging puzzles to collectors and problem-solvers internationally. At Mr Puzzle, you are guaranteed to receive high-quality puzzles, premium customer service, and unparalleled knowledge of all things puzzle-related. If you’re looking for Japanese puzzles, make sure you check out Mr Puzzle’s online store today.
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