Japanese Encyclopedia: Kairo (Pocket Warmer)
JAPANESE CULTURE

Japanese Encyclopedia: Kairo (Pocket Warmer)

2016.01.02

This series introduces some unique Japanese words to tourists. This article is about kairo, a portable pocket warmer used to keep warm in winter.

Translated byLester Somera

Just a Kansai guy trying to get by

Written by k_yamamuro

Kairo is a vessel containing heat-generating liquid or powder that one can carry around to stay warm. It is written as 懐炉 in Japanese: the characters mean "chest pocket fireplace."

Photo by pang yu liu

The History Of Kairo

When looking back on the history of kairo, people kept warm in the 17th and 18th centuries by heating stones, sand or salt, then wrapping them in cloth and putting the bundles in their chest pockets of their clothing. Around the same time, ash-type kairo, made of charcoal and wood ash mixed together and placed in a metal vessel, appeared on the market.

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Photo by comman819

Once the 20th century rolled around, hakukin kairo was invented, which utilized the scientific reaction between platinum metal and the flammable liquid benzene. It had to be wrapped up in cloth when used, or it would get too hot. Hakukin kairo products from many companies appeared on the market, and in a flash, the use of kairo became routine.

The Birth Of Disposable Kairo

Since 1975, disposable kairo, which are now the most commonly-used type of kairo, have progressively become more and more advanced. This kairo comes in a special film that prevents exposure to air. When opened, it is designed so a chemical reaction with the air occurs and the kairo heats up.

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There are several types of disposable kairo. Some are designed to be stuck to a layer of clothing or carried in a pocket, and still others are made specifically for feet. A kairo's heat will reach a temperature of 50°C to 68°C (122°F to 154°F); the sticky variety retains this heat for 12 to 14 hours, while the non-sticky variety lasts for 18 to 20 hours. In the winter, kairos are very convenient when going outdoors.

How To Use Sticky-Type Disposable Kairo

You can use sticky-type disposable kairo to warm up a particularly cold spot on your body, and they are quite convenient. It is said that warming up the sacrum (the bone located at the base of the spine, slightly above the buttocks) is an effective way to relieve pain symptoms like backaches and menstrual cramps. Give it a try yourself.

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Let's talk about how to use kairo. Open the package as seen above. The sticky side with the paper seal is the one to attach to your clothing.

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Remove the seal.

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Attach the sticky side to your clothing. After five minutes, the kairo will heat up. Take care not to stick kairo directly onto your skin, or on a place where it could touch your skin! It could result in first-degree burns. Once the kairo loses its heat, quickly remove it from your clothing. The more time passes, the more difficult it will be to remove.

Activate the non-sticky variety of kairo by removing it from its bag and giving it a vigorous shake. Once the contents mix together, the kairo will heat up.

Japanese winters are extremely cold, but you can overcome the chill of the season with this helpful trick. Whenever you think it's too cold to bear, drop by a drugstore or convenience store and pick up a disposable kairo.

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