Known as Himitsu-Bako this is a traditional Japanese Secret Box, or what we now call Puzzle Box.
To open this Japanese Puzzle Box, you need to find the first panel that you can move, usually by sliding it side to side or up and down. That will then allow the next panel to unlock and move and then another and another like a kind of chain reaction. When the right combination of movements is achieved the box will open. One of the most difficult steps is to know where to start. There’s no obvious top or bottom to this box and the joins of the panels is very well disguised.
Similar boxes were being made as early as 1830 and known as Hakone Hotsprings Souvenirs. They were commonly used for carrying sewing kits, even work tools because others could not steal the contents because of the trick opening. They we soon used by Samurai and warlords to send secret messages all over Japan. From around 1870 they became what we commonly know today as a Japanese Puzzle Box when Mr Ohkawn developed a more complex mechanism to open combined with the amazing Yosegi-Zaiku inlaid mosaic woodwork unique to the Hakone area.
The Hakone Mountains of Japan has always been a popular tourist destination even back then. The region is noted for its great variety of trees. Hakone-Yosegi-Zaiku is inlaid mosaic woodwork unique to this area and takes advantage of this wide variety of natural wood colours and textures to produce their elaborate geometric patterns.
There are about 60 different basic Hakone wood mosaic patterns although depending on how the design is applied the count can be over 100.
Pattern name for the design on this puzzle box is Yabane. Yabane is known as the Fletching or Arrow-Feather pattern. It represents the fletching on an arrow and it has been popular in Japan since the Heian era (from 794 to 1185 AD). The Yabane pattern is not only used in woodworking but in other materials too. You can see the pattern in Kimonos worn at university graduations or weddings and other special events. For a wedding, it is auspicious because a bride does not return to her parents’ house after the wedding, represented by an arrow shot from a bow.
This is a 5 Sun box. Sun is the traditional unit of measure to denote length – 3.03cm to be exact – of these secret opening puzzle boxes.
Actual Size outside: 150mm X 107mm X 68mm Size inside: 100mm X 74mm X 42mm
Packaged in a pressboard gift box with a rich maroon lid. It has a printed solution inside.
We found this YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljh4oBJD0QI%20 of a Japanese craftsman making the Yosegi in the traditional way. We don’t know who this actual craftsman is but this is a good example of the way these puzzle boxes are made to this day. Just amazing to watch.