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Goin’ Japanesque!

Kotatsu: Japanese-Style Heating Table – Embracing the Structure of a Japanese Home

A kotatsu is a must-have for comfortably surviving a Japanese winter. The moment it is pulled out of storage, is the moment the Japanese people feel winter has arrived. Today we will be following the history and secrets behind why the kotatsu is so loved, and how it became such a staple in the Japanese household.


What is a Kotatsu?

A Japanese-style heating table that has become one with a futon blanket. There is a device that generates heat attached to the bottom of the table.


The History of the Kotatsu

The introduction of the kotatsu goes way back to the Muromachi era. At the time, the fireplace was about the only thing keeping people warm from the cold of winter. Recognizing that only the parts close to the coal were generating heat, people wondered what would happen if they used a blanket to cover the fireplace. This is how the kotatsu was born. Today the kotatsu has been modernized by the installation of an electric heating unit under the table, instead of using coal as a heat source. The yutanpo (hot water bottle) was also born from the same idea.



Why Use the Kotatsu When You Have a Separate Heating Unit for Your Home?

A traditional Japanese house has an extremely breathable structure, because of the sliding doors and windows made out of paper, wood, etc. While this construction is greatly effective to stay cool in the summer, it can also be a fatal flaw for winter. What it comes down to is that it is more efficient to heat a smaller blanket enclosed space, than the whole room. It is without a doubt, a heating appliance that was born out of Japanese culture.


The Benefits of a Kotatsu

The direct heat from the kotatsu is not only cozy, but will also heat your entire body up despite only covering the lower half. The heating time is also very short because it only has to heat a smaller enclosed space, and since everyone needs to come together in one place to get warm, it naturally creates a convenient and pleasant space for family bonding. 


Scenes Often Seen During Japanese Winters

1. Kotatsu and Mikan (Japanese mandarin oranges)

For some reason, all Japanese people associate the kotatsu and mikan oranges together.

2. Kotatsu and Cats

The cats are drawn to the warmth. There is even an old Japanese nursery rhyme called “Yuki (snow)” that has the lyrics, “the cat gets round on the kotatsu♪”

3. Neshougatsu (Sleeping New Year)

It means to get under the kotatsu, and spend the entire new year lying around being lazy. The fact that there is a word describing this should indicate how many Japanese people actually succumb to this new year “trap”.


The actual shape of the kotatsu has not changed much since the Muromachi era. This suggests that the first model of the kotatsu was probably already pretty functional, and it also proves how much the kotatsu is loved and appreciated even today. 

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