– Although Mr. Okiyama passed away in 2003, he
provided over 80 years of expertise in the creation of
puzzle boxes. While
his final product is incredible, the process he went
through to ensure every puzzle box was perfect is what
helps him stand apart from other artisans.
For example, Mr. Okiyama was renowned for picking
out the wood, curing it, cutting it to the appropriate
size, and basically, doing everything on his own.
The experience and knowledge owned by Mr. Okiyama
was passed down for three generations, starting with Mr.
Ninomiya who then passed it down to Mr. Kamei.
bako is a name given to small boxes made by combining
unique puzzle mechanism with Yosegi-Zaiku
inlay work. The merging of two arts, native to a
single small town along the banks of Ashino-Ko Lake.
Welcome to Hakone, Japan and the art of the Japanese
Secret Box, also known in the west as a Japanese Puzzle
puzzle boxes first appeared in the Edo Period, when the
design for the trick opening mechanism was first
developed. The technique was perfected in the middle of
the Meiji era, and since then, continuous improvements
have been made to make the art what it is today. To open
the box, each box must be rotated, turned and moved a
specific number of times (steps). Each style of box is
different, full of surprises and unique ideas. Unique to
Hakone, these boxes cannot be found anywhere else in the
There are less than a dozen craftsmen working today to
make these unique boxes.
Himitsu Bako / Japanese puzzle box appears on the
surface to have no means for
opening it. There is no
lock and seemingly no opening. It appears to be just a
beautiful wooden block. However, it includes a very
tricky mechanism. It is impossible to open it, unless
you follow the exact step-by-step procedure designed
specifically for it. These steps can be as little as 4
moves or as many as 72. Solving the puzzle could take a
few minutes to several hours, depending on the
difficulty of the particular sequence required and the
experience level of the person trying to open it. To
make it even more challenging, artists have their own
designs for the mechanism – a family secret passed
down through the generations.
steps required to open the box are only the first half
of the story. The second art form is the fine inlay work
that goes into each box. The Hakone area is famous
throughout Japan for the wide variety of trees that are
native to the area. The wood from these trees provide a
colorful palette from which the artists are able to work
without the need of stain, paint, or dye to produce the
inlay work. These various woods are carefully aged then
cut into thin pieces in many different shapes. The
pieces are then assembled to create a small repeating
pattern. This process is repeated over and over and the
patterns are joined together to make one large piece.
This final piece is shaved across the grain to produce a
fine veneer which is then glued to the surfaces of the
of Puzzle Boxes by Okiyama