Yosegi Puzzle Box & how Yosegi pattern is created

Yosegi Puzzle Box & how Yosegi pattern is created

What is Yosegi Puzzle Box & how Yosegi pattern is created

What is Yosegi?

  • Yosegi pattern that you see is not print or paint, it is a type of intricate and complicated wood work.
  • Yosegi is a pattern (thin skin or layer) scraped from a block made by arranging wood of different colors and shape.
  • Yosegi originated in the Hakone region in Japan around the culturally rich EDO period (1603 - 1868) was created by master craftsman Nihei Ishikawa (1790-1850)
The area of Hakone in Kanagawa is famous for it's hot springs and beautiful scenery. The Hakone Mountains are also noted for their great variety of trees that grow naturally across the mountain slope. Lot of visitors are attracted to this scenic beauty and Hakone-yosegi-zaiku was developed as souvenirs for travelers. There are two types of Hakone-Zaiku Marquetry, "Hikimono" and "Sashimono".
  • "Hikimono", is produced using potter's wheels and includes various products including bowls.
  • "Sashimono", mainly boxes, are decorated on the surfaces with "Yosegi-Zaiku Marquetry".

Below are a few Yosegi patterns :

Yosegi Puzzle Box Pattern 1
Yosegi Puzzle Box Pattern 2
Yosegi Puzzle Box Pattern 3
Yosegi Puzzle Box Pattern 4

Where is Yosegi used?

Yosegi patterns are commonly found on the outside of Japanese secret boxes or Japanese Puzzle Boxes (himitsu-bako), but may also be used to create or decorate many other items such as trays, chests, jewellery boxes, vases, photo frames, drink coasters, etc.

Products on which Yosegi pattern is used

Yosegi Puzzle Box

Yosegi Puzzle Box

Yosegi Drawer Box

Yosegi Drawer Box

Yosegi Tray

Yosegi Tray

What is a Yosegi Puzzle Box?

Also known as himitsu-bako, the secret box was originally created as a hiding place for coins, Jewelry and secret message. The Yosegi Puzzle Box is a secret Box that is not so easy to open. One has to perform a number of steps to open the box. Every box has a different trick to open it.

To open the box, once has to slide the moving parts of the box in a particular sequence.

The simplest boxes require about 2-10 steps, and most range from around 10 to 66 steps. However, there are a few Yosegi Puzzle Boxes that require over 125 steps - and one particularly large box requires over 360 steps. Each step is a small shift or slide of one of the seemingly seamless wooden pieces of the box. Each step must be done correctly and in the precise order, otherwise the box will remain locked and closed. But if all the steps are done correctly, the top lid slides off, revealing the hollow interior of the box. Steps must then be repeated backwards to close and lock the box.

Today, there are simpler Yosegi Puzzle Boxes (Himitsu-Bako) available. Some require only 7-10 steps to open. These were developed to increase interest amongst the general public and create a way that anyone could easily purchase them. They continue to be a leading souvenir to the many people who visit the Hakone region each year. In May 1984, Hakone-Yosegi-Zaiku was designated a national traditional handicraft by the International Trade & Industry Minister of Japan.

The Yosegi puzzle boxes differ in sizes and number of moves required to open them. The physical length is usually measured in the traditional Japanese units of measurement called the sun (pronounced "soon"), with one sun equal to approximately 3 centimetres (1.2 in), hence a "5 sun" box would measure about 15 centimetres (5.9 in) in length.

Sun In Inches
1 Sun 1.22 inches
1.5 Sun 1.83 inches
2 Sun 2.44 inches
2.5 Sun 3.05 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

How is Yosegi pattern made?

Watch the below video or read the step by step process


Wood Cutting : Step 1

Timbers of different colors are cut into oblong rods of desired sections. In this case they are cut into triangle rods.

Yosegi Puzzle Box Wood Cutting

Glue the rods : Step 2

The rods are then glued together to form a square block.

Yosegi Puzzle Box, Puzzle Box, Yosegi Box

Geometrical Pattern : Step 3

4 square blocks like above are combined together to form a bigger square. Tightened by exterior mould and rubber band they are left to dry.

Yosegi Puzzle Box, Puzzle Box, Yosegi Box

Tanegi : Step 4

The dried and finished block/section is called "Tanegi". Tanegi of different patterns can be made too.

Yosegi Puzzle Box, Puzzle Box, Yosegi Box

Combine Tanegi : Step 5

Similar to the above process other patterned blocks(Tanegi) are made. You can see the square and star pattern.

Yosegi Puzzle Box, Puzzle Box, Yosegi Box

Oyose Assembly : Step 6

Multiple Tanegi made in the above proces are assembled to form a larger pattern called oyose.

Yosegi Puzzle Box, Puzzle Box, Yosegi Box

Completed Yosegi block : Step 7

You can see the final Yosegi block which is ready to be used.

Yosegi Puzzle Box, Puzzle Box, Yosegi Box

Another finished Yosegi block : Step 8

This is another example of a completed Yosegi block which is bigger in size.

Yosegi Puzzle Box, Puzzle Box, Yosegi Box

Shave a strip: Step 9

A thing strip is shaved from the Yosegi block.

Yosegi Puzzle Box, Puzzle Box, Yosegi Box

Yosegi Strip : Step 10

You can observe the Yosegi pattern thin strip/skin

Yosegi Puzzle Box, Puzzle Box, Yosegi Box

Final application : Step 11

The shaved skin/strip is then applied on the handicraft products. In this case, its is being pasted on to a Yosegi Puzzle Box

Yosegi Puzzle Box, Puzzle Box, Yosegi Box

Types of wood used in Yosegi pattern

Samples of Yosegi pattern

Name Types of Wood used Pattern
Benkei White - Cornus controversa
Dark Brown - Cercidiphyllum japonicum, Makore
Pale Brown - Mansonia
Black - Cercidiphyllum japonicum
Yosegi Pattern Benekei
Gomai kawari neri ichimatsu Lignt yellow - Euonymus hamiltonianus Wall
Green - Magnolia
Black - Cercidiphyllum japonicum (buried in soil)
Yosegi Pattern Gomai kawari neri ichimatsu
Yakko White - Cornus controversa
Lignt yellow - Picrasma quassioides
Yellow - Picrasma quassioides
Pale Brown - Cercidiphyllum japonicum (buried in soil)
Yosegi Pattern Yakko
Rokkaku asanoha White - Cornus controversa
Black - Cercidiphyllum japonicum
Yosegi Pattern Rokkaku asanoha
Hakkaku asanoha White - Ilex macropoda
Yellow - Rhus succedanea
Pale Brown - Cercidiphyllum japonicum (buried in soil)
Yosegi Pattern Hakkaku asanoha
Nami Yellow - Euonymus hamiltonianus Wall
Dark Brown - Red Monroe
Pale Brown - Cercidiphyllum japonicum (buried in soil)
Yosegi Pattern Nami
Kagemasu White - Cornus controversa
Dark Brown - Makore
Yosegi Pattern Kagemasu
Kikkou White - Cornus controversa
Pale Brown - Almaciga
Pale Brown - Cercidiphyllum japonicum (buried in soil)
Yosegi Pattern Kikkou
Hishi manji White - Cornus controversa
Black - Cercidiphyllum japonicum (buried in soil)
Yosegi Pattern Hishi manji

About Yosegi craftsmen

There are still only a handful of people who know the craft and one of them is Mr. Yoshio Okiyama

Mr.Yoshio Okiyama was born in Hakone, Japan in 1924. At age 12, he started making Himitsu-Bako while apprenticing with his father Mr. Yoshitaro Okiyama. Winning many awards through the years for his hand crafted boxes. Mr. Okiyama is more than 80 years old, and is a legend in Hakone Himitsu-bako. He chooses his own wood, cures it, cuts it to size, and to make a long story short does everything himself except make the Yosegi that he applies to the boxes. He is the grandson of one of the first puzzle box craftsman from Hakone. In 1994 the Association of Traditional Crafts Development of Industry in Japan commended Mr. Okiyama. Sadly, Mr. Okiyama passed away in the spring of 2003.

Summary of Mr. Okiyama's life

  • 1925 Born in Hakone, JAPAN
  • 1937 Become an apprentice of Yoshitarou Okiyama
  • 1943 Entered the army
  • 1945 Came back home
  • 1960 Successfully restarted the Okiyama Woodworking factory
  • Later, his speciality was continuing to produce Secret Boxes
  • 1978 Won a prize at Crafts Competition (Secret Box)
  • 1980 Won a prize at Crafts Competition (Trick Broach)
  • 1991 Won a prize at Crafts Competition (Unusual Secret Box)
  • 1992 Completed the 7 Sun 122 Step Secret Box
  • 1993 Recognized as a man of merit in Traditional craft industry
  • 1997 Won a prize at Crafts Competition (Unusual Secret Box 2)
  • 1998 Won a prize at Crafts Competition (Secret Box with new trick inside)
  • 2000 Acted as the Karakuri Creation Group's Chairman

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