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Himitsu Baku 101

Himitsu-Bako is the formal name of the artistry referred to as the Japanese Puzzle Box, or 'personal secret box'. Over a century ago, talented artisans began using various woods of the Hakone-Odawara area in Japan to handcraft intricately designed storage boxes. Months could pass between not only choosing a variety of woods and letting them dry but carving them and piecing them together. Taking the assorted flat pieces in an array of different colors, artisans worked masterfully complex designs. The result was a sleekly designed piece of art that was anywhere from one inch to one foot in length. Each box is a work unto itself with no one box an exact copy of another. 

The intrigue of the Japanese Puzzle Box stems from the fact that there is no lid, no closures and no seemingly visible way to open the box. Rather, one must slide certain pieces of the box in an exact sequence to reveal a secret opening. The number and series of required moves can be as small as two steps to well over one hundred. Nowadays, it is easy to find Japanese Puzzle Boxes in a number of designs, colors and sizes that will open with an average of seven to ten steps. However, boxes with a higher number of steps are also available. The more complex the design and number of steps, the higher the price tag will be.  

When determining the size of a puzzle box, a traditional Japanese unit of measure called 'sun' is used. Sun denotes length but not the width or height of a box; nor does it indicate the size of the inside compartment. To better understand the measurement, one sun would be considered approximately 30.3 millimeters, or 1.22 inches. A mini puzzle box measures roughly one to one and a half sun. Small puzzle boxes fit in the two to three sun range. A medium box runs at four sun, a standard at five. A box that measures six sun is large while seven sun is considered extra large.  

Because the wood pieces used to decorate the box can be nearly paper thin, the Japanese Puzzle Box should never be exposed to high humidity or moisture. The lacquered or veneered surface should be wiped down with a dry soft cloth only.

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