Japanese Himitsu-Bako | Secret Trick Puzzle Box – Four Steps | Zougan Marquetry Design | 1960

Traditional Japanese Trick puzzle boxes as we know them were first made in the Hakone region from about 1870s by master woodworker, Ryugoru Okawa. They were known as Himitsu-Bako, (Personal Secret Box), and were originally used to store documents or other secrets inside but soon became common as souveniers for people visiting the hot springs in the area.

This vintage mid-century Japanese trick puzzle box depicts an inlaid landscape scene of Mt. Fuji with Lake Ashino, three sailboats, a country house, and a large auspicious pine tree that symbolizes a long and happy life. The opposing side shows a Camellia flower with a bird perched nearby. The box was designed using the Zougan marquetry technique, with small geometric patterns called Weave, (this pattern gives the illusion that the surface is woven), where each diamond shape is a separate piece of wood.

This Hakone box requires four, (4), moves to gain entrance to the interior. Each smoothly slides to gain access to the next move. Condition: Understandably due to its age there is minimal shrinkage to the box, so two edges on the side of the flower are not perfectly flush, which does not interfere with its appearance or opening. There are also a few surface scratches to the varnish due to the previous use, display and handling. Dimensions: 5-0” Lx 3-1/8”D x 1-3/4”H.

Additional Information —

Zougan Zaiku has a history dating back 1,000 years. It was first created in the town of Hakone, an important stop on the road from Kyoto (the old capital) to Edo (the new Capital, now known as Tokyo). This road was made famous, by the woodblock artist Hiroshige in his work entitled: “The 53 Stations of Tokaido”.

Zougan marquetry is the art of creating portraits by cutting each tiny piece of the picture and assembling them. This is an example of the art using only the natural colors of the wood to create the different images. Because of the amount of labor required, each of these boxes are limited editions in that there are no two that are exactly alike.

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