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Himitsu Baku of Hakone

The Himitsu Baku means "Personal Secret Box", and is a traditional Japanese puzzle box that was originally designed more than 100 years ago, in 1893 in the Hakone region in Japan. The Hakone Mountains have been renowned for the great number of different trees that exist there, and the Himitsu Baku Personal Secret Box takes advantages of all of the different colors and textures of wood that can be found in the Hakome Mountains in order to create elaborate boxes with beautiful hand-carved geometric patterns on each face of the box. Not only is the Himitsu Baku puzzle box concept popular for the puzzling entertainment that it offers, but it is also valued as a Yosegi-Zaiku, which is a mosaic woodwork that is usually applied to chests, boxes, trays and other small handicrafts. 

The techniques involved in the design and creation of the Himitsu Baku Japanese puzzle box first originated during the late Edo Period. In May of 1984, just one year later, this marquetry technique was designated as a National Traditional Handicraft. Hakone, at the time and for many years after, was a relay station on the main road to the Edo region which is now known as Tokyo. Hakone's Yosegi-Zaiku products, especially Himitsu Baku were developed especially to serve as souvenirs for travelers who would cross through this area. The geometric designs on the faces of the Himitsu Baku boxes were made by binding together different types of wood that had different shades and textures. These very thin sheets of wood would be shaved off and then glued together to create the unique designs that the Himitsu Baku boxes are known for featuring. 

Most Japanese Himitsu Baku or Personal Secret Boxes have difficulties that range between 4 and 66 moves, though the most popular difficulty is the box with the 59-moves. There are also larger puzzle boxes available, with exceptional move numbers including 78, 119, 122 and 125. These boxes were most commonly constructed by an artisan named Yoshio Okiyama, though they are not normally made available for purchase and therefore are quite difficult to procure because Mr. Okiyama passed away in 2003. 

Although there are a number of Japanese artisans who have handcrafted these Japanese Himitsu Baku secret boxes through the years, the most popular craftsman has been Mr. Yoshio Okiyama, who even at eighty years old was responsible for handling every aspect of the creation of his personal puzzle boxes. He has become a true legend as far as Hakone Himitsu Baku is concerned. He is responsible for selecting his own wood, curing it by hand, cutting it to size by hand and every other step in the process of the creation of his world renowned Himitsu Baku boxes. He was the grandson of one of the first artisans ever to develop puzzle boxes in Hakone, but he retired from making boxes and passed away in 2003. His boxes can still be found for sale in a number of areas, though they are becoming rare and difficult to find.

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