Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Puzzle Box

Sometimes things impress me maybe way more than they should. But I don't know. This really impresses me.

In the late 1800s, the good folk of Hakone, Japan (in particular three men named Okawa, Okiyama, and Kikukawa) expanded on an idea and invented something called a Puzzle Box (karakuri bako) or Secret Box (himitsu bako). I had heard of them before but didn't know exactly what they did.

Then just the other day my son received one from his grandparents as a souvenir (this and the black eggs). It is pure awesome.

Here's a picture of what his Puzzle Box looks like. It's gorgeous inlaid wood. Or better yet, this. It's a technique called yosegi.

Here's a close up.

I mean that alone is amazing. But that isn't what makes it 'secret'.

What makes it secret is that you can't just open it. It's impossible. You have to slide the pieced together slats of wood in a certain order and a in a certain direction, before it will open. The order has to be exact. J's box is one that opens in 14 moves. But they make boxes that open anywhere from four moves to over a hundred moves.

To close it you have to slide them in the opposite order or it won't shut.

Here it is after a couple moves.

They say that the art of making these boxes has never been written down and has been instead passed down from generation to generation. One of those links up there say there are only nine craftsmen alive who can actually make one and only three apprentices learning the craft. I'm not sure I believe that. But I do believe the not written down part.

It seems a more primitive version of these were made to only be opened by either the maker or the owner. And valuables were hidden inside.
I finally -- with more than a little help from my son -- was able to open his. Guess what I found?
One game cartridge and a handful of guitar picks.


Mary Witzl said...

How sweet that your son values his guitar picks! If I could figure out how to open a secret box, I'd use it to store my nail clipper and tweezers, which my kids constantly swipe.

Sadly, I have little patience with secret boxes and never managed to open one. I can't get secret handshakes straight either, so it's no wonder.

I do have a yosegi key chain with a mirror, though, and a yosegi tea cannister -- love the inlaid wood!

Pat said...

Such a beautiful piece of art - and useful too! Wouldn't it be a shame to lose the art? I meant to learn from my dad how to cane a chairseat before he passed away but ran out of time. I hope that doesn't happen with the secret boxes.

Tigermama said...

I love those secret boxes. We almost got one last year when we were in Hakone at Christmas! I find it interesting that there are Lebanese wood boxes that look almost the same as the Hakone ones. Take a look here:

Hilary said...

Wow very cool. The original combination lock. I can so relate to Mary and her missing tweezers and nail clippers. I DO hide mine now. And I'll bet my son can relate to yours. He values his guitar picks too.

Kappa no He said...

Mary, I'm kind of embarrassed I didn't know about this yosegi stuff before. It is so gorgeous. Funny, in our house nail clippers and tweezers are always on the list when we go to the one hundred yen store. Contastantly disappearing. Now if they were made of yosegi I bet I'd keep my eye on them!

Pat, I know. I hate watching TV shows about the last apprentice learning some ancient Japanese art. Breaks my heart. And even my grandparents. So much I wished I'd asked them.

Tiger, I am so going to look at that link. I wonder if they were invented separately or if one influenced the other. I'm really curious now.

Hilary, recently mine is in a stage where once homework is finished he grabs his guitar and doesn't put it down until bed. I often think of your son and say to myself, I bet that is how he started to get so great, too.

Anonymous said...

Wow Terrie.. this is amazing!!! It is not only intricate but dashingly beautiful... I hear you on the nail clippers... I bought an expensive one TWICE, lost them TWICE.. since then I buy the trow away type = ( they don't cut as well but do the job!

Your son... "ROCK STAR"! hehe = )

Gina said...

I too, really dig that puzzle box! And it's gorgeous! And very cute he sticks his guitar picks in there! Now I am sorta wondering what I'd stick in there too! Ha ha ha. : )

Kappa no He said...

GirlJapan, I'm thinking of inventing some nail clippers attatched to a kind of bracelet or necklace so I'll never be without.

Gina, yeah, I think he was tired of the dog eating all his picks. The dog truly cannot open the puzzle box. Not that he hasn't tried. Silly dog.

laughingwolf said...

terrie, that's absolutely lovey!

grats to your son, he has great grandparents :D

Kappa no He said...

Thank you, yep, they are great shoppers. I got a pair of chopsticks made from that same inlaid wood.

Ello said...

Oh wow! That would not do for a dunce like me. I never could solve the rubik's cube. But I have to say it is very impressive!

Kappa no He said...

Speaking of dunces...I figured it out...and then promptly forgot it. I hate being old.

laughingwolf said...

neat, terrie...

while at uni, a pal from hong kong presented me with ivory chopsticks, i treasured for many years, til they were stolen in a house i shared accommodation with grrrrrrrrrrr