Tuesday, June 26, 2007

When is a box not just a box, when is a cup not just a cup? Himitsu-Bako

From Wikipedia:
A puzzle box (also called a secret,or trick box) is a box which can only be opened by a non-obvious and sometimes complicated series of manipulations. Sometimes, a simple squeeze at the right spot will do the trick. On the other hand, sometimes many movements of small pieces are necessary for the box to open. Hence some puzzle boxes are closely related to burr puzzles. Jewelry used to be kept in trick boxes so that a potential thief would have problems seeing and stealing the contents. Puzzle boxes have been crafted all over the world, including Morocco, Poland and South America. By far the most intricate and beautiful is the Japanese puzzle box, covered in complicated patterns of rich wood inlay called Yosegi and featuring complex mechanisms to open them. At first glance they appear smooth and without any opening, but by various obvious or hidden panels, may take anywhere from 2 to over 200 movements to open.

yoshio okiyama

The Japanese puzzle box can be as small as an inch long, or up to over a foot in length. They are adorned with elaborate inlaid wooden geometric designs, an independent craft in itself. They are produced in a few towns in small area of Japan. The town of Hakone in particular is regarded as the center of both the creation and the continuing evolution of this National Traditional Handicraft as designated by the Minister of Industry in 1984. In Japan the boxes are known as "Himitsu-Bako" or "Secret Box ...."

These boxes were made in various complexities and consist basically of 4 moves with a variety of twists here and there to trick the person trying to open these exquisite boxes, but the real trick is finding the correct series of movements that can range from 2 to 125 moves. Mr. Yoshio Okiyama is credited with making the most complex box which requires 125 moves to open. He also made boxes which require from 78 to 90, 102, 122 moves to open and his final box, made while he was in his late 70's, was a 119 move box with a wood picture of a Geisha on the top and a bow, as on a gift, on the bottom. Only 19 of these complex boxes were made for sale while another 8 in a different style were made for sale in foreign markets. Mr. Okiyama passed away in March of 2003 approximately at the same time as another great Master of this craft, Mr. Kenji Suzuki. On the other end of the scale of complexity is the greatest Master Craftsman of them all, the famous Mr. Yoshiyuki Ninomiya, who makes the finest most perfectly made Himitsu-Bako to ever grace a collector's display area. Finding the Kannuki on one of his boxes is often nearly impossible to the untrained eye. Mr. Ninomiya has made fit and finish his life's work, at least in terms of the Himitsu-Bako. For over 50 or 60 years now he has perfected the creation of these boxes to such a degree that he is far and away the finest woodworker of this craft.

There's also this excellent practitioner of himitsu-bako: Akio Kamei

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