Japanese Puzzle Box Information
The craftsman who makes the Japanese puzzle box itself does not make the yosegi or zougan overlay that covers the box. They buy it in sheets from yosegi makers and apply it to their boxes. So two boxes that look exactly alike may be vastly different in quality when a master craftsman makes one and an apprentice makes the other. The master’s box will work flawlessly, the apprentice’s box may barely work at all. Ours are the best quality available.
Most of our boxes are shown with a number and then "Sun". Sun is an old Japanese form of measurement which is equal to 30.3mm. So a 4 sun box will be approximately 120mm long. It always applies to the longest edge of the box.
HIMITSU-BAKO (Personal Secret Box)
Amongst the various art works of wood in the world today, the Japanese Puzzle Boxes produced in the Hakone-Odawara region of Japan are superior in quality as well as traditional craftsmanship. The selection of high quality wood and the expertise of three generations of master craftsmen have achieved an art form revered for its artistry and ingenuity.
The Personal Secret Box is a traditional Japanese puzzle box that was designed over 100 years ago in the Hakone-Odawara region of Japan. The Hakone Mountains are noted for their great variety of trees.
The Personal Secret Box takes advantage of this wide variety of natural wood colours and textures to produce elaborate geometric patterns. The appeal of the Personal Secret Box is not merely in its entertainment qualities.
It is adorned with Yosegi-Zaiku and/or Moku-Zougan. The Yosegi-Zaiku is a mosaic woodwork usually applied to small handicrafts such as trays, boxes and chests.
This marquetry technique originated in the late Edo Period and in May of 1984 was designated a National Traditional Handicraft by the International Trade & Industry Minister.
In the Hakone-Odawara region of Japan, there are about 100 people who are working in the field of traditional wooden products. Of these 100 people, only about 30 craftsmen produce Yosegi-Zaiku and about four craftsmen produce Moku-Zougan. The Himitsu-Bako is produced by only 9 traditional craftsmen. These craftsmen do not make the Yosegi-Zaiku, which adorns their Secret Puzzle boxes. The Himitsu-Bako craftsmen produce their secret puzzle box virtually alone from start to finish. They each pick the wood they will use and then allow it to dry for a period of time.
Next, they cut and assemble wood pieces to form the puzzle box. Finally, they apply the Yosegi-Zaiku to the outside of the box. The youngest of the Himitsu-Bako master craftsmen is about 60 years old.
CARE OF YOUR BOX - To clean, wipe the surface with a clean dry cloth. Never use abrasive or liquid cleaners.
PLEASE NOTE - As with any work of art, the Personal Secret Box should be handled with care. Please be aware that the wood may contract or expand with changes in humidity or temperature. Avoid damp or steamy areas and never leave your box in the sun. If this has happened, do not force your box as it may cause damage.
YOSEGI, ZOUGAN AND MUKU FINISHES
The majority of Japanese puzzle boxes will have one of the above finishes. The most common of these is probably Yosegi. This is produced by gluing together many different lengths of coloured wood which is then shaved across the top to produce the various patterns available. These shaved layers are then glued to the outside panels of the boxes.
Muku boxes used the same patterned wood but instead of shaving the patterns, the wood is cut to a thickness that the box can actually be produced from. The pattern on these boxes will be seen on the inside as well as the outside and the process takes a lot longer making these boxes more expensive.
Zougan finishes are what we would call marquetry and cover many subjects such as Mt. Fuji, flowers and trees etc. These can either be produced with coloured wood or stained for extra effect.