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Puzzle Boxes - Japanese

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.  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.

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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.

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