Japanese Puzzle Boxes
is a Japanese measurement unit equal to about 3 cm, or 1 and
inches. So, the 2 Sun 7 Step box is about 6 cm long and
requires 7 steps to open. "Mame" means "bean" in Japanese,
indicating that this is a very small puzzle box. Click
individual puzzle box to see its specific dimensions.
Japanese term for Puzzle Box is Himitsu-Bako, or "Personal Secret
Box." These puzzle boxes are highly treasured by collectors
for a couple of different reasons. First is the meticulous
craftsmanship and clever design of the puzzle box itself. The
Himitsu-Bako range in complexity from Easy to Difficult, and all come
reason Himitsu-Bako are so highly valued is the beautiful
Zaiku woodwork applied to the exterior of each puzzle box.
See all those different colors in the intricate mosaic
patterns? Those aren't painted on! They're the
colors of different woods, reflecting the great variety of trees for
which the Hakone region is famous.
is a traditional Japanese form of parquetry.
(Marquetry refers to inlaid woodwork with a figural pattern
like people or scenery, while parquetry has a geometric
pattern.) The Yoseigu Zaiku technique was developed in the
Hakone region of Japan in the mid-19th century, near the end of the
culturally rich Edo period. Hakone is famed for its wide
variety of trees, which provide the different natural colors that
create the mosaic pattern.
First the wood
is cut into small, very narrow rods with geometric cross-sections as
required by the design -- triangles, squares, rectangles, and so
forth. A group of rods is glued together into a bundle, again
according to the desired design. The bundles are sawed into
sections and glued together side-by-side to create a bigger
bundle. This process is repeated until the cross-section of
the bundle reaches the desired size. Sections with different
designs may be glued together into a block called Tanegi, creating an
even more intricate pattern. Then cross-sections of this
block are planed off into thin sheets less than a millimeter thick,
called Duku. The sheets of wood are then applied to the
surface of handicrafts like trays, chests, and of course, puzzle boxes.
1984, Yosegi Zaiku was designated National Traditional
Handicraft. Since 1989, the number of craftspeople creating
Yosegi Zaiku has declined by 95%.
Trees of Hakone
which trees create which colors in the Yosegi Zaigu woodwork?
Here's a guide:
- Dogwood, spindle tree
Japanese lacquer tree, wax tree, sumac
Light Brown -
Japanese pagoda tree, walnut, camphor tree
Dark Brown -
Persimmon, katsura tree
- Cherry tree, jindai of zelkova tree
Japanese white bark magnolia
Black - Black
persimmon tree, jindai of Japanese Judas tree
to a tree which has been buried by landslide or volcanic activity for a
long period of time. When dug up and exposed to air, the wood
color turns very dark, but retains the original wood grain.)
History of Himitsu-Bako
During the Edo
period, Hakone was a way station on the main highway between Osaka,
Japan's commercial center, and Tokyo (Edo), the nation's
capital. The area has long been a resort area that attracts
lots of tourists to its famous hot springs and beautiful
Puzzle Box, or Himitsu-Bako, was developed in Hakone over 100 years
ago. The many travelers to this region made Himitsu-Bako a
popular souvenir, and spread appreciation for Yosegi Zaiku
woodwork throughout Japan. Today,
fewer and fewer
craftspeople produce Himitsu Bako. Like the beautiful Yosegi
Zaiku woodwork, it is a unique art form that is sadly in danger of
dying out within the next generation.