The Secret of Secret Boxes" by Yoshio Okiyama
Now, I'll talk about "The Secret of Secret Boxes"
It is said
that the origin of the Secret Box idea is the chest of drawers which
lock by some
mechanism like special old chests. But we don't know when and by
whom the first Secret Box was
Now we know the "Post Secret Box" which is the oldest and
has the shape of the Secret Box.
It was probably made before 1907, due to the Yosegi on the side
plate of this box being a thin plate.
After this box, the Yosegi became like paper. In the information,
we can find that the tool for
making the paper Yosegi was invented around year 1907. In the decoration,
Yosegi is not designed
at first. A plate of precious wood was made and pasted on the Secret
Box. Then it was planed,
rubbed by special glass "Tokusa" like sand-paper and
finished with wax. Finally this was the
Yosegi that was made in Hakone. The Yosegi design on the top of
the box was a picture of Mt.Fuji
and on the bottom was a picture of a flower and bird. By the way,
the top plate is called "KOURA" and the bottom
plate is called "SHIKI".
Anyway, through this process the Secret Boxes are still
Now I have to talk about "The Secret of Secret Boxes".
I thought about the meaning of the
Secret of the Secret Box for a few days. I noticed that "Secret" means, "Lock" inside.
The Secret Box is made of the outer box and the inner box. In
the outer box there are ARUKI
which can move up and down and HASHIBAMI which can move to
the right and the left. Both of
them have a mechanism inside. On the outside of the inner box,
there is a mechanism. There are
BOTTI in ARUKI which move little by little by OTOSHI, in other
words the ditch like stairs. By
the movement of this BOTTI, ARUKI can move up and down and HASHIBAMI
can move to the
right and left. You can open the Secret Box by repeating this
movement. If the mechanisms in
OTOSHI, ARUKI and HASHIBAMI increase, the movement becomes more
complicated and it
also becomes more difficult to make the mechanisms. The smallest
number of the movement is
two. Generally, the 10 or 27 one sells well. Other craftsmen
also make these Secret Boxes. But, for
example, in a 54 movements Secret Box, only master craftsmen
can make it well. My biggest
Secret Box for retail shops has 66 and 78 movements.
The other day, someone asked why I have to make so many step move Secret
Boxes. I answered, "
I'm a craftsman. If I don't make something which other craftsmen can't
make, I can't make
money". It's a fact. I can do nothing without this work. If I can
make something big, something
which people jump at or something which no one else can make, maybe I
can become more skillful
The 102 step move Secret Box was not made for sale. I
tried to increase the steps in the size to 6
sun, by using current techniques. This Secret Box won a prize.
After the 102 step move Secret Box, I tried 122 step move Secret Box.
At first Yottyan( the
nickname of Yoshiyuki Ninomiya)told me about one customer who wanted
me to make an
enormous number step move Secret Box. So I decided to make it. But
when I thought about the
shape and the size, I believed that I couldn't make the box bigger.
I decided to make it within some restrictions. So the size became 8
sun. I intended making it for sale from the start. Before
starting, I calculated everything. For example, in the 54 step move
Secret Box, one step of
OTOSHI is 8 rin. If this size is used, it will become more expensive.
So I adopted 7 rin which
means that 4 rin and 3 rin make a crevice of 1 rin. As a result, even
a small warp made many
troubles. At first I drew a plan, then I started making it. Finally,
it was completed. Additionally,
most of the wood material was from the Hokkaido region, but now it's
from Tohoku region. The
quality is completely different. In the progress of wood material there
are three progresses of "
using material", "compressing material" and "drying
material". So I'm always nervous about
making the Secret Box.
Secondly, in the tools, especially the plane,
when I planed a rough board in old times I used
three kinds of planes, "Arashiko(rough)","Tyuushiko(middle)" and "Shiage(finish)".
If the planing
board and the fitting size are not good, even if such boxes look four-sided,
you can't stack the
boxes high. You can open the box by 8 moves though it's usually 10
moves. The basic technique is
very important. After all, it's important that any craftsman can fix
the plane or can sharpen the
How do they learn the technique? In this trade there was an apprentice
system from about the
year Meiji 27(1894). A master had a few younger members who came after
graduation of primary
school or junior high school. They were training themselves as a live-in
worker until they were 20
years old or as an enlistment. There was no opportunity for them to
learn from a senior pupil. For
example, if they wanted to fix their plane, they secretly checked a
senior pupil's plane when the
senior pupil wasn't there. In short, they stole the senior pupil's
I was in the last generation of the apprentice system. At
that time the number of pupils were
more than 150 and there were many craftsmen in Yumoto Town. So, Yumoto
the war, some pupils joined the army, others were drafted. The tourist
industry changed to the
munitions industry. In this war many craftsmen and pupils were killed.
I'm sure that it caused
damage to this industry.
After the war the reconstruction went forward
little by little. I started to make the Secret Box.
My father learned to make it somewhere. Old craftsmen could make many
kinds of wooden
products. So we started to make the Secret Box. For sometime, wholesale
dealers came by bicycle
and brought many products. At the time of the Korean War, many US soldiers
bought the Secret
Box as a souvenir when they came back from Yokosuka. Many peddlers
came and bought the
Secret Box. The price went up rapidly. I learned the technique at that
time. In this way, I have
continually made the Secret Box for my living.
1 sun = 3.03cm
1 bu =3.03mm
1 rin = 0.3mm
The Second Forum / Dec, 11th 1993 / at Yumoto Syougen-Ji
by Okiyama woodworking factory