Japanese puzzle box
Japanese puzzle boxes, from a collector's point of view
A real masterpiece of craftsmanship, Japanese puzzle boxes are definitely an eye-catcher. Crafted exclusively in Japan by artisans that learned the craft passed on to them generation after generation, Japanese puzzle boxes have reached almost every corner of the planet, with an ever growing demand .With this lens I plan to give you a sneak peek into these fantastic works of art. Learn what "Sun" means, how many moves are there for solving the puzzle box, the different kinds of wood that are used in making the woodwork and also how to care for your puzzle boxes. Enjoy!
What is a Japanese puzzle box?
A Japanese puzzle box is an intriguing piece of art, both beautiful and functional. While closed(locked) there is no apparent lever or protruding part whatsoever, and of course no keyhole! In order to open it you have to slide certain parts in a specific order, otherwise it won't open . Each time that you move a piece another one unlocks, and if you get the sequence right you manage to fully open the puzzle box .This is why these boxes are perfect to hide personal belongings inside, away from prying eyes (friends or family actually, a thief will most likely grab the whole box!).It's also a perfect way to test your puzzle solving skills or dare a friend to do so. Even if you are not that much into puzzles, it can still provide some very high decorative value, wherever it is placed.
Here is a list of several trees used for the mosaic woodwork :
(see actual photos of the trees below)
White: Spindle or Ilex macropoda
Black: Aged Katsura
Yellow: Picrasma quassioides, mulberry or sumac
Brown: camphor and Amur maackia
Purple: American walnut
Blue: Japanese cucumber
Red: Chinese cedar
Depending on the pattern, timbers from the aforementioned trees are precisely cut into rods and glued tightly together, creating a (usually) geometric pattern. Thin slices of this bundle are then cut and glued on the surface of the box, and then treated with a light coat of semi-gloss/matt varnish. This gives the surface extra durability and a slight shine.
Why not try to make a puzzle box on your own? - If you got the skills or just want to experiment check out these great books:
Test your woodworking abilities with this exciting book for puzzle makers! Bonus: supplied with a DVD.
The ultimate guide in making your own boxes, including Japanese puzzle boxes, a must have for the hard core fans!
Trees from which Japanese puzzle boxes are constructed - When nature becomes an artist...Click thumbnail to view full-size
Some japanese boxes you might like:
This is a great box for beginners, small and relatively easy to solve.
The smallest available size, fit it in your pocket and amaze friends and relatives!
A true collector's gem, this box features a beautiful wave depiction on one side and involves 10 movements towards solution.
Number of movements - How hard a puzzle box is to solve
Japanese puzzle boxes vary in difficulty, depending on how many moves lead to solution. Usually the number of moves is between 4 to 66, though it is not uncommon to find larger boxes that can reach even 125 moves! (now that's gonna take some time to solve...)
As the number of moves goes up, so does the price, as the construction of a puzzle box with many moves is more elaborate.
Do you like solving puzzles and riddles?
Do you like solving puzzles and riddles?
Solution to opening the 4 Sun 14 moves Mount Fuji puzzle box - A rare and splendid box
Did you know?
Jinbei Ishikawa (1790-1850) was the first to start designing and building puzzle boxes in the Hakone-Odawara region of Japan. The Hakone mountains are famous for their richness and diverse variety of trees.
Size Does matter.. - Learning what the "Sun" means
Sun is the traditional unit for measuring length in Japan . Each puzzle box is denoted a number of sun, which actually tells us how big the box is. To get an idea of the scale,here are the approximate lengths in inches:
1 Sun >> 1,22 inches
2 Sun >> 2,44 inches
3 Sun >> 3,66 inches
4 Sun >> 4,88 inches
5 Sun >> 6,10 inches
6 Sun >> 7,32 inches
7 Sun >> 8,54 inches
So the higher the sun number the larger the puzzle box will be ( and more expensive of course)
Measuring a puzzle box in sun is not precise. For example, a 4 sun puzzle box is usually 4 and a half inches long, 3,3 inches wide and with an approximate height of a little more than 2 inches.
Opening a Japanese puzzle box
Here are the basic patterns in woodworking that a Japanese puzzle box can have:
(from left to right)
Saya - Yosegi - Kuroasa - Kiasa - Akasa - Hineri(my favorite!)
It is not uncommon to find boxes that have non-geometrical designs on a couple of sides, like scenes from Japan's history and natural beauties. Some examples include: waves, geishas, Mt Fuji, Japanese symbols e.t.c. Sometimes the artisan can construct a box with a specific depiction, as per request by the customer.Needless to say these are highly collectible.
How to look after your puzzle box - Things to do and not do
You can wipe your boxes with a soft cloth, suitable for wood, with no chemicals or abrasive substances. Do not use any kind of cleaning solution as this will damage the surface.
Don't drop or hit your box with anything. The marquetry of the box is very very thin and it will be damaged if you don't exercise enough care.
Keep it out of direct sunlight to keep the colors of the wood as vibrant as possible.
Keep it away from moisture as this could cause the wood to expand and your box to become stuck closed.
Do NOT force the parts to move, otherwise you risk breaking them or jamming the mechanism. The Japanese puzzle boxes are meant to be opened with gentle sliding moves, in the correct sequence,treat them with respect.
In order to keep the box in perfect working state, you can put some talcum powder on a piece of cotton and puff it gently over the sliding parts of the mechanism. When you're done doing this, remove the excess powder with a soft cloth.