Pieces of the Puzzle Leading to a Hidden Treasure
Unlocking the mystery of Yosegi boxes
The art of yosegi-zaiku, literally “wooden mosaic craft,” brings a stunning dimension to one of Japan’s most intriguing wooden handicrafts: the himitsu bako, or Japanese puzzle box.
At first glance, these appear to be simple polished wooden boxes decorated with elaborately detailed inlaid surfaces. These intricate motifs, however, conceal a secret: the box’s interior compartment can only be unlocked by sliding sections of the box in the correct sequence, unlocking a hiding place for cherished treasures, while providing a fun challenge for puzzle lovers.
Crafting the precise mechanisms is a highly challenging task, requiring decades of experience—the youngest master himitsu bako makers are over 60 years old.
Meanwhile, the inlaid lids feature the art of Hakone parquetry. Produced exclusively in the lush Hakone Mountain region in Japan, this famous wooden mosaic art is made using the varied wood types, shades, and textures of the area’s native trees to create the elaborate one-of-a-kind geometric patterns decorating the box. With no obvious levers or locks on the yosegi boxes, the inlaid panels need to be moved in the right series of steps to release the locking mechanisms hidden by the mosaic. Place a cherished keepsake inside for gifting, or simply present the box as a special memento in its own right.