7 Tips About Kotatsu to Enjoy Winter in Japan!

7 Tips About Kotatsu to Enjoy Winter in Japan!

Japanese winters can be bitterly cold especially in the north of Honshu and the northernmost island of Hokkaido, where icy air from Siberia brings deep snowdrifts.In times gone by, Japanese houses were heated by a charcoal cooking pit, or ‘iori’ in the centre of the floor, but through subsequent generations this has become the kotatsu we use today. A kotatsu is not for cooking; it is essentially a low table frame, usually with an electric heater on its underside, over which is placed a broad quilt and then a table top, typically 60-80cm square. We sit at the table, at floor level, our legs and midriff covered by the quilt. To complement our modern apartments and houses, the kotatsu have become ever more appealing, with quilts and matching floor mats in bold, colourful designs. In the summer, the quilt will be put away but the kotatsu table may still occupy its important role in the unique culture of every home. Here then are seven things you should know about kotatsu culture:



 

7 Tips About Kotatsu to Enjoy Winter in Japan!

 

1. Room Planning

Japanese living spaces tend to be much smaller than those in other countries, so when setting up home in Japan, lack of space may well force you to choose between sofas and chairs, or a kotatsu – few homes have room for both. Yet the real difference between them is in the lifestyle they impose. Kotatsu force you to adopt a rather more traditional, floor based lifestyle, which still has many adherents in Japan, in spite of otherwise extensive westernisation.

 

2. The Kotatsu’s Place in Japanese Homes

In today’s modern, Western style apartments and houses, often with under floor central heating, the kotatsu is more a matter of choice than necessity. Whether for families or single people, the kotatsu forms the social hub of any home as a dining table where people can come together at the end of the day or for romantic meals for two. For study, reading or playing games, it is a desk top or computer table, and a practical surface for almost any activity. The shared warmth and unavoidable touch of other people’s legs and knees beneath the quilt adds to the sense of intimacy inherent in kotatsu culture.

 

3. Another World

No matter what is happening on and around the table top above, the kotatsu dweller will ultimately be drawn down, under the quilt to the interior of the kotatsu and the strange an inviting world it offers. With the warm orange glow from the heater and the folds of colourful, quilted polyester, it is like being inside a small, soft cave… an escape from the world. But herein lies the danger, for so warm and comforting is this womblike underworld, that everything beyond the kotatsu can seem increasingly bleak, cold and uninviting. If that happens, you have become a kotatsu addict!

 

4. Kotatsu Snails

Kotatsu addicts are easy to spot; they are the ones who try to get as much of their bodies underneath the quilt as possible, with only their heads poking out. They use their laptops, read or watch TV lying under the kotatsu and never leave it unless forced by extreme circumstances. They look like snails so we call them ‘kotatsumuri’ or kotatsu snails. When other kotatsu users get too hot and turn off the heater, kotatsumuri can panic and complain bitterly, even though it is still warm under the quilt. It is my theory that the orange glow is a big part of the spell they are under!

 

5. Stay Awake!

One should always avoid sleeping under the kotatsu! Kotatsumuri get away with it because they are already slow, inactive and lazy creatures, adapted to the warm and cosy environment. But for anyone else, falling asleep under the kotatsu with only one’s mid body covered, produces uneven heating which is not at all healthy. At the very least you may wake up with a thick head, or even a feeling of nausea!

 

6. Living on the Floor

Living at floor level is a lot easier if you have a tatami floor – wood floors, so common today, can be uncomfortable unless you place a thick quilted mat under the kotatsu. In fact, many modern kotatsu come as a set which includes such a mat. For some foreigners, sitting cross legged may be unfamiliar and hard on one’s back, but there is a solution for this called a ‘zaisu’ – a kind of soft folding chair with no legs, but a back support. There are even floor level sofas and other furnishings to make the kotatsu lifestyle more comfortable.

 

7. The Cost

I have not bought a kotatsu for many years, but looking on Amazon Japan, I can see a very wide selection at prices to suit every pocket. Prices start at under ¥2000, but overall, prices average around ¥12000 for a complete set, with or without heater. The best value set I could find included table frame with heater, table top, quilt and floor mat for under ¥8000. But my advice would be to visit your nearest discount household store and see what they have on offer.

 

Conclusion

So, if the floor level lifestyle appeals to you, and you don’t mind sweaty legs, or back ache, the Kotatsu might be a very rewarding experience. You might even become a real addict… a true kotatsu snail!

 

7 Tips About Kotatsu to Enjoy Winter in Japan!

1. Room Planning
2. The Kotatsu’s Place in Japanese Homes
3. Another World
4. Kotatsu Snails
5. Stay Awake!
6. Living on the Floor
7. The Cost