Karakuri technique might have come from over the sea when friendship with
the mainland China and the Korean peninsula started in Japan.
It is recorded that the oldest karakuri work was a Sinan-sha (a compass vehicle) presented to the ancient Japanese Emperor Tenchi, and
that it took 9 years to create this present in the Chronicles of Japan.
Sinan-sha, which is South Pointing Chariot in English, is a vehicle on the top of
which the doll of hermit is always poitning south.
In the Chinese classic sotry, Sangokushi, it is used for checking the direction in heavy fogs in battles.
Complete Dashi karakuri (Parade float karakuri ) and Zashiki karakuri (Indoor karakuri) were created in Muromachi period when a Western mechanical clock came
to Japan with Nanban culture by a Portuguese ship. People showed a big astonishment for the
clock which automatically worked, and it had a big influence on Japanese
workmanship. However, this karakuri was still seen only by some of the nobility.
In peaceful Edo period, Japanese culture civilized.
The karakuri technique progressed by craftsmen's humorous ideas and manual techniques.
An ingenious clockmaker, Konoe Takeda, started adopting the karakuri technique to a Japanese puppet drama called ningyo-johruri, and set out to play it on the stage throughout Japan. Simultaneously,
Dashi karakuri also became more powerful and gorgeous thanks to springs and gears from the new technique.
It was a great innovation for the people. The combination of Eastern technique, dashi karakuri and the Western mechanical clock created the new Japanese technique. What's
more, Karakuri-zui (Illustrated Complication of Machanical Art), a book about the principle
and diagrams of karakui motions was published. This was the first attempt
that the confidential workmanship was opened to the public.
Karakuri attracted the people, and they started creating new techniques around the country.
For example, karakuri tansu (a trick chest) was created by a witty carpenter
when Tokugawa family (the most powerful military family in Edo) asked well-known
palace carpenters to make a shrine and a castle.
He used the popular karakuri technique to make a chest of drawers.
Also, there was another production of an unusual cash box which could float
in the water if a ship was sinking and which cannot be opened easily in
order to keep important documents or money safe. They all used the great
It intrigued Europeans, and had a great influence on their automata at
The Edo period indeed saw an exchange of technology between East and West.