Secret Box – Hakone Yosegi Zaiku

February 11, 2014 Juju Kurihara 3 Comments

When I was at home in Japan, there was an American student lodging in my mother´s house. She came to study Japanese for three months. I was in the living room, chilling then she came down to show me some beautiful wooden boxes, which she went alone to Hakone on a heavy rainy day to buy them.

himitsu bako titleThey are Hakone´s famous crafts work, Yosegi Zaiku (寄木細工/ parquetry) and is specially called Hakone Zaiku (箱根細工). This technique was established in the late Edo period (江戸時代, 1603-1868) but the original Yoseki Zaiku was already introduced in early Heian period (平安時代, 794-1192). Hakone Zaiku became a popular souvenir in Edo period when Tokaido was connected for the travellers. In 1984 it was stated as a traditional crafts by the Minister of International Trade and Industry.



There are different types of products such as trays, bowls or small tables as well as boxes. Boxes like the photo above are particularly called Himitsu Bako (秘密箱/ secret box) because it´s a puzzle. It´s not so easy to open it.

himitsu bako 5

The priginal Himitsu Bako was invented in 1830 but it was rather simple. It was getting more complicated during Meiji period (明治時代, 1868-1912) and craftsmen started making more complicated ones like now around 1894.



himitsu bako 4

The key to open this box is sliding the side of the box. More you need to slide, the box is made more complicated. Easy one can be open just four times of shifting and it goes up to 72 times. There is also the one needed to be slide 125 times to open. Imagine you keep your jewellries in Himitsu Bako and have to shift the box 75 times every time you need to take a ring out. Nightmare.



How you slide the box? You must be thinking now. It´s easier to see it than explain. Eva is here to show us how to open Himitsu Bako.

himitsu bako 1

Eva also had another type of box. This is smaller and need a different technique to open. Can you guess?

Clue. You can open this with just one move.




Here is the answer. Easy, isn´t it?

himitsu bako 2

When you ever visit Hakone, maybe it worth checking Hakone Yosegi Zaiku (箱根寄木細工). They are handmade and have quality. Maybe for someone special or for yourself. They are beautiful wooden crafts.


One of the shops I´ve found, Maruyama looks quite good. Their website is HERE.



More Japanese crafts

Cooking knives, Kikusue

One brush dragon drawing

One brush dragon, Kousyuuya


  1. Cynthia Thurber 6 years Reply

    Can this work be purchased online?

  2. Louis 8 years Reply

    Very nice article. Thank you for this glimpse into this fascinating Japanese creation. I would love to have one for myself!

    • juju.kurihara 8 years

      Thank you for your comment, Louis. Hakone Yosegi zaiku is not only beautiful to look but the system they invented is amazing. Do check if you ever go to Japan.

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