While it may not exactly be cutting edge, the kotatsu is still one of Japan’s best inventions. Essentially an ultra-cozy blanket draped over a table with a heater, the kotatsu is a comfy way to do pretty much anything (like eating, working on your laptop, watching tv, or my favorite, taking a nap). While this useful invention is found in just about every Japanese home, kotatsu are virtually unknown outside of Japan (though Iran has a similar contraption called a korsi). So how did the Japanese kotatsu become so popular and where can you get one?
The Origins of the Kotatsu
The kotatsu evolved from a cooking stove. Its predecessor, the hori-gotatsu, was a charcoal-fueled cooking hearth that was dug into the ground. The Japanese cooked in the hori-gotatsu and gathered around it to keep warm. As time progressed, a table was placed over the pit for convenience (reducing the need to leave the warm fire) and a blanket was draped over the table to prevent heat from escaping. Fast forward several centuries to present day, and most kotatsu are now electric (though they do still make charcoal-heated kotatsu).
A Kotatsu is More than Just a Heater.
While the main purpose of the kotatsu is to keep you warm, it also acts as a gathering place for families, serving not only a practical purpose, but a social function as well. While there are one-person kotatsu, the most commonly used versions are larger, allowing more than one person to enjoy its cozy comfort. (In fact, kotatsu are even used at dining tables, allowing multiple people to enjoy its warmth together.)
Japanese families also often watch television together under the kotatsu. Because of its practical use as a heater, combined with the fact that it serves as a prime social gathering spot, the kotatsu has evolved from a somewhat primitive hole in the ground to the comfy, convenient device that it is today. (Well, that and the fact that Japanese houses are notoriously drafty.)
So Where Can I Get One?
Kotatsu sell like hotcakes (pun intended) in Japan. Not so much outside of Japan. While you can buy a kotatsu online from manufacturers and from online Japan-based shopping sites like Rakuten, the plugs and voltage are made for Japan, so you would need an adaptor and a converter to use it outside of the country. Luckily however, you can find kotatsu with plugs and voltage appropriate for your location on Amazon (though these kotatsu are usually a bit more pricey as they are coming from Japan, with prices ranging from $100-$1,600, depending on how fancy you want to get).
With your new kotatsu, you’ll not only be able to enjoy one of Japan’s best (and most popular) inventions, you’ll also be able to snuggle up with your sweetheart, get cozy with kitty or just enjoy a (glorious) nap.