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Japanese Puzzle Box Opening Movements


This is the simplest sequence of moves that you are likely to see. You will usually find this type of movement on the smallest boxes. They may be a simple four step up to 18 or so steps. They do not use keys at all and are opened by a move and rotate type of action. An end is usually moved first; that releases the base; that releases the other end which in turn releases the top. Then on to the first end again and so on until the top can be removed.

This type of box would not confuse a puzzler because once the first move is made, the rest then fall into place. However the craftsmanship that is involved in these boxes is absolutely amazing and has to be seen to be believed.


By far the most common opening sequence is one that uses panels and keys. The keys are the narrow pieces of wood at each end of the box. To open, one of the keys is moved to the left or right about 5-10mm. This will then release the end to move. Depending on the size of box you may need to move a key on the opposite end. After various movements of keys/ends/top, the top can then be removed. The base doesn’t usually move at all apart from some boxes which have a double compartment.

Depending on the size of the box there may be anything from one to twelve keys. The twelve keys are called split keys because instead of a single sliding piece, they are cut to two which move left and right independently of each other.

The above two methods cover the majority of Japanese puzzle boxes. You will sometimes see boxes described as "new move" which have variations and different sequences and may even include the use of magnets. There are also trick boxes such as the ones that the Karakuri Group produce. Trick boxes have all manner of movements and are a fascinating insight into the possibilities that a true Japanese craftsman can produce.