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Kotatsu and Horigotatsu (Table Heaters) - Japanese Encyclopedia

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The kotatsu and horigotatsu are two of Japan's most iconic heaters. These must-have winter appliances are commonly found in Japanese homes and even restaurants! This article covers the history and features of these uniquely Japanese heating tables.

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Kotatsu and Horigotatsu (Table Heaters) - Japanese Encyclopedia

Photo by Pixta
A kotatsu is a type of home heater. It consists of a low table placed over an electric heater and covered with a quilt or heavy blanket to trap in heat. You can warm your lower body by sitting at the table and relaxing under the blanket. A sunken kotatsu (horigotatsu) is another heating table incorporated into a recessed floor. Sitting in a chair and dangling your feet into the warmth below is an experience unique to the sunken kotatsu.

The Origins of the Kotatsu

In the past, people warmed themselves by sitting in front of an irori, or open hearth in Japanese. (The irori refers to the square cut out of the floor where a fire is lit). Unfortunately, this open hearth was not efficient in warming up the entire body. So around the end of the 14th century, they devised a wooden frame (called yagura) to place over the dying embers of the fire and put a quilt on top to keep the heat from escaping. This is thought to be the origin of the kotatsu.

Kotatsu and Horigotatsu (Table Heaters) - Japanese Encyclopedia

Photo by Pixta
In the 17th century, the heater was made portable by placing hot charcoal in earthenware or ceramic containers. This portable heating device was known as an anka (a type of foot or bed warmer) and is the predecessor of the modern kotatsu.

In the 1950s, the kotatsu switched its heat source from charcoal and briquettes to electricity. The electric kotatsu quickly became a popular appliance in Japanese households.

Lifestyle Changes and the Kotatsu

Until the 1980s, it was customary for every household to have an electric kotatsu. The image of people sitting under the kotatsu and eating mandarin oranges has become a classic winter scene. Although Western lifestyles have become widely incorporated in Japan, it remains commonplace for households to use this low, wooden table with an electric heater underneath. Some even use the kotatsu outside of the winter months, treating it like a fashionable piece of furniture.

In recent years, households without a kotatsu have increased with the arrival of numerous heating devices. However, Japanese-style restaurants and izakayas (Japanese-style pubs) often have seats surrounding a sunken kotatsu, allowing guests to enjoy a traditional kotatsu experience.

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