Monday, December 22, 2014

An Ode to the Kotatsu.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Japan is known as the birthplace of many wonderful inventions: karaoke, pokemon, haiku, those crazy reality shows where people have to fit through a human-shape in a wall that moves towards them, square watermelon, and this amazing shampoo hat which I found in my local 100-yen store last week:

I would have killed for this as a kid!
But the most wonderful of all is the humble kotatsu. It's never taken off in western countries (probably because most of them actually have affordable and reliable central heating systems and insulated housing #burn #puns), but it's a winter necessity in Japan. The kotatsu is basically a table with a removable top, and a heater attached underneath.

I bet that's a book about coffee tables.
In warmer months, the kotatsu is just a regular coffee table. But in winter, remove the top, place a duvet-like blanket in, and put the top back on. Stick your legs under the blanket, switch on the heater, and you suddenly have your own toasty lower-body sauna. Recommended kotatsu activities include watching the entirety of Freaks and Geeks without moving, eating mikan (Japanese mandarins which are ripe in winter - kotatsu + mikan is as natural to the Japanese as beach + jandals is to Kiwis), and kotatsu yoga, in which you increase your own flexibility by trying to fit as much of your body as possible under the kotatsu without disrupting the heat-saving blanket.

This is the underneath of a kotatsu. You can see the heater contraption.
Kotatsu (こたつ) are widely available in Japan, and can be bought from home stores such as nitori, or online sites like amazon Japan and rakuten. Small kotatsu start from about ¥16,000, but the more standard ones are around the ¥20,000 - ¥30,000 range. The blankets, called kotatsu futon (こたつ布団), are also rather expensive, ranging from ¥5,000 - ¥10,000+. I recently bought this super cute and incredibly soft Mickey and Minnie Mouse kotatsu futon from amazon Japan for ¥3840. Kotatsu are relatively cheap to run, but of course, they only heat a small space, leaving the rest of your apartment cold (or in my case, tundra-like).

This is the kotatsu futon I bought. However, please note how this woman is using her kotatsu incorrectly; she appears to be sitting there like a normal human being, and not burrowing under the table to access more precious warmth at all.
If you happen to be living in Japan over winter, I highly recommend investing in a kotatsu. However, if you're not ready to commit to your own hibernation, many izakaya (Japanese pubs) will set up kotatsu during winter. You can enjoy a good dinner, drinks, and the company of intoxicated salarymen, all whilst experiencing the joy that is kotatsu.

- Annabelle

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I've been a high school English language teacher on the JET Programme since August 2013. Read about my experiences, advice on being accepted into the JET Programme, and travel tips around Japan on my blog:
 
 
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