Saturday, September 26, 2009

Shanghai Knights Chinese Puzzle Box

Being a curious sort of person while watching Shanghai Knights (again!) I decided to find out more about the Chinese Puzzle Box Jackie has to open.


Chinese Puzzle Boxes? Japanese puzzle boxes are often erroneously called Chinese puzzle boxes. Although a few Chinese puzzle boxes may exist, the Japanese puzzle box is what is usually inferred when Chinese puzzle boxes are referred to.

Japanese Puzzle Boxes are called "himitsu-bako" in Japan, which translates to "Personal Secret Box". The first Japanese puzzle boxes were designed over 100 years ago in the Hakone region of Japan. The mountains in this region are known for their amazing variety of trees. Japanese puzzle boxes take advantage of these natural wood colors and textures to produce their elaborate geometric patterns.The techniques used to make these puzzle boxes have been used for generations in Japan and have been surpassed by none.


The “Himitsu-Bako (Personal Secret Box)” is a traditional Japanese puzzle box that was designed over 100 years ago in the Hakone 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 colors and textures to produce their elaborate geometric patterns. The appeal of the Personal Secret Box is not merely in its entertainment qualities. It is valued as a Yosegi-Zaiku is a mosaic woodwork usually applied to small handicrafts such as trays, boxes and chests. This marquetry technique is originated in the late Edo Period, and in May of 1984, was designated a National Traditional Handicraft by the International Trade & Industry Minister.

For many years, the town of Hakone was a relay station on the main road to Edo (present day Tokyo) and Hakone-yosegi-zaiku was developed as souvenirs for travelers. The geometric design is made by binding together various shades of wood. Shaved off with a special plane, very thin sheets of wood are then used as an outside finish for various objects such as boxes. For a craft item to be designated a Traditional Craft Product under the Law for the Promotion of Traditional Craft Industries, it must satisfy the following criteria:
The article must be used mainly in everyday life.
The article must be primarily manufactured by hand.
The article must be manufactured using traditional techniques.
The materials should be mainly those that have been traditionally employed.
The industry must be of a regional nature.

Most Japanese Personal Secret Boxes (Puzzle Boxes) have a variety of difficulties ranging from 4 to 66 moves. From a puzzler’s point of view the 59-move box has the most interesting sequence of moves, even better than the 66. A few large puzzle boxes have exceptional numbers of moves, such as 78, 122, 119, or 125

To read more about the interesting history of the boxes and some of the designers:

Puzzle Boxes on WIKIPEDIA

The village of Hakone is located about 100 kilometers east of Tokyo in Kanagawa Prefecture not far from the shores of beautiful Lake Ashi. Dominated by the slopes of Mount Fuji rising in the background, Hakone lies in the heart of a region known for its traditional Japanese handicrafts. It was here that Yosegi, Japan's centuries old woodworking technique, was born.

Hakone is famous both for its traditional Japanese Yosegi and for Himitsu-Bako, or Japanese Secret Puzzle Boxes, which the International Trade & Industry Minister designated as a Traditional National Handicraft in 1984. And it is from the renowned woodcraft guilds in the area around Hakone that Bene Gifts acquires all of its Yosegi products.

Yosegi is the complex process of repeatedly binding and cutting different colors and species of wood to create elaborate mosaic wood patterns. These patterns are in turn bound and cut into patterns of increasing intricacy. This process is repeated again and again, until a mosaic block is produced. This block is then sliced, shrunk and lacquered, eventually creating the paper thin mosaic wood veneer that is traditionally used to decorate Himitsu-Bako.

Originally created as hiding places for jewelry, coins, and the occasional secret message, Himitsu-Bako boxes date from Japan's culturally rich Edo Period (1603-1867). They are designed so that they can be opened only by the creator of the box or its owner. Some boxes rely on a secret pressure point or "kannuki" built into the sides or lid of the box to open them, while others require a precise sequence of consecutive moves to release the internal locking mechanism. Without knowing the precise pressure point or the proper sequence of moves the box will remain securely sealed and its contents hidden.

Traditional Japanese Secret Puzzle Boxes range in size from the width of your thumb to over a foot in length and the combinations that unlock them can involve a single precisely executed manipulation or several dozen complex sequential moves. The legendary master craftsman, Yoshio Okiyama, who passed away in March of 2003, is renowned not only for his flawless artistry, but also for making the most complex Secret Puzzle Box of all, a Himitsu-Bako that required 125 different moves to open.

Secret Puzzle Boxes have appeared throughout the world in different cultures. Puzzle boxes can be found in Turkey, Morocco, Poland, Vietnam and as far away as Costa Rico. But Japanese Puzzle Boxes are especially prized by serious collector not only for of their ingeniously clever locking mechanisms, but for the exquisitely complex and uniquely stunning Yosegi veneers that are traditionally used to decorate their exteriors. Yosegi Collection

Each Yosegi Puzzle Box that we acquire is handcrafted by a traditional master craftsman. The painstakingly precise process for their creation has survived intact for centuries, handed down in strictest confidence from master to apprentice from generation to generation.



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