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The metaphor of the Japanese boxes

The metaphor of the Japanese boxes "Himitsu-bako"

May 24, 2022

The concept of these puzzle boxes originated in the early 19th century in the Hakone region (Japan) , where they were given as souvenirs to the people who visited the hot springs in the area. Its creator was Ryugoro Okawa.

It is a type of box that can only be opened through a series of very precise movements. Some boxes only need to slide few pieces to the right place; others require millimeter movements in each of their pieces.

You can watch a video about these boxes below:

What are the Himitsu-bako boxes?

This week, the Mensalus Institute team explains the importance of understanding and respecting "the difference" through the metaphor of the Himitsu-Bako boxes.


What metaphor exists behind the puzzle box?

To begin with, each box is unique and therefore, its way of opening is also unique. As we mentioned, they are manufactured with different levels of complexity. For this reason, simple models require only two or three steps to open them, while more complex models require a minimum of one thousand movements.

With the resolution of conflicts something similar happens. Each situation is unique, whatever its complexity, and requires a unique intervention strategy.

Every day we deal with situations that share similar processes. When there is an apprenticeship and a routine, the matters that we attend and solve are like the simple boxes. Still, every moment, every stage, is exclusive. Likewise, throughout life we ​​also find complex boxes that require time and attention. The solution requires more elaborate movements and, of course, many failed tests.


Both in the case of the simple boxes and the complex ones, the trial-error is the one that indicates the piece that we will have to slide. The solutions flow with practice and take shape thanks to learning and patience.

Is the metaphor of the boxes also applicable to people?

Of course. Each person has unique tools (resources) that allow him to connect with the world, relate to himself and others, cope with adversity, etc. This set of skills is reflected in your system of thoughts and emotions. Each one of us, in each situation, will think, feel and act in a different way (he will behave like an unrepeatable puzzle box).

What does this individual difference tell us?

Understanding that each person is a box and operates as such helps us to understand that there is no single reality and only way of looking at life, while reminding us of the importance of empathizing with "the box" of others.


Sometimes it is difficult to adapt to the other's way of operating ...

True. And not only because of the difference in points of view, but also because of the difference in vital rhythms. For example, what for one is a moment of reflection or waiting for another can be a waste of time.

Following the example of vital rhythms, teamwork respect for the "other people's box" is a very important issue to address. The metaphor of the Himitsu-Bako boxes is a very graphic way of explaining that the intervention strategy will not only depend on the objective, but also on the people who participate in it and on the synergies that are created when working.

This can also be extrapolated to other systems (for example, the family context or the couple's). The difference of rhythms in solving issues of daily life can become a serious problem. When this happens, preserving an assertive communicative style is one of the main challenges.

In this sense, what aspects can help when respecting the rhythm of others?

First, avoid imposing our pace as the only valid structure. Rigid postures derive in discussions involving failed communication strategies such as "escalation" (raising the tone and aggressiveness of discourse in order to seek recognition) or omission (silence and enduring without sharing one's opinion).

Understanding that the other person operates from his own way of interpreting reality reveals a world (new points of view) and complements our vision, either by reinforcing or subtracting power from our constructs (those words that shape our discourse and explain our values).

At times when communication is not efficient, how can the metaphor of the boxes help us?

If we do not understand the box, we can hardly open it (solve the puzzle). This understanding goes through the recognition of the need of the other, the exposition of one's need and the analysis of the situation from both points of view.

Remembering the metaphor of the Himitsu-bako boxes is a way of making explicit the difference that characterizes each human being that, in turn, defines their essence (their way of thinking, feeling and acting).

Accepting the difference makes us more flexible and efficient in the face of conflict resolution. In addition, this acceptance facilitates the connection with others and helps us to enjoy the attractiveness of the exclusivity of each "box".


Confinement Special - In the Pines (an SCP Animation) (May 2022).


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