Winter is creeping in, the temperatures are dropping, and everyone’s trying to keep cozy. As it turns out, the Japanese have been figuring out how to keep warm long before the rest of us by using a kotatsu. What is a kotatsu, you ask? Wonder no more!
A kotatsu is similar to an indoor fire pit (NOTE: add indoor fire pits link here once pubbed) — except that it’s meant to keep you (and your guests) warm while you’re dining. It’s usually placed in the center or the heart of the home and, simply put, is a low table, usually made of wood, with a source of heat under it, covered by a blanket.
The kotatsu is thought to have originated in the Muromachi period, roughly around the 14th century. Traditionally, the Japanese cooking hearth, known as an irori, was heated by charcoal, and around this time a seating function was introduced to it. Thanks to this, its cooking function and seating functions were separated, and a quilt, called an oki, was introduced as well to cover the seating. This early version was called hori-gotatsu, literally translated as “ditch foot-warmer.”
The moveable version of kotatsu came later, as tatami mats became a popular form of seating in Japanese homes. The charcoal was instead placed in an earthen pot, making the whole thing moveable. This version was called an oki-gotatsu. Finally, in the 20th century, as electricity became available, the heating source was changed to an electric heating fixture attached directly to the table frame.
They are now considered a common feature of Japanese homes, especially in the winter. They’re slowly gaining popularity around the world — not only are they great for keeping warm during a meal with family and friends, but they can also help save on energy costs during the winter.
Where Can I Buy a Kotatsu?
Kotatsus are not easily found outside of Japan, but you can buy one online or make your own. It may set you back a few hundred dollars, but if you want to be super cozy this winter, it’s worth it! Kotatsu Tokyo sets come with a table, a heating element, a floor mat, and a beautiful quilt, and they ship to the United States via eBay. You can also find a kotatsu table on Amazon, although you’ll have to buy the floor mat and quilt yourself.
Other online retailers are hard to find. If you’re handy, you might want to consider buying the heating element and attaching it to the table of your choice, then buying the quilt and floor mat separately. Either way, you’re sure to bring all the coziness into your home this winter!