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We got our first noticable snowfall of the winter today. It has been a lot lighter this year. That's not to say it hasn't been cold this year because ooooooh boy! Even my brass monkeys think that it's brass monkeys here! That's why we decided to finally buy a kotatsu.
Now, "what is a kotatsu?" you may well ask. If you're familiar with Japan at all you probably know already. Even if you aren't you have probably seen them in anime or dramas. In short, a kotatsu is a heated Japanese table, but it is so much more than that; it's dreams, it's heaven, it's a sound night's sleep and a way to avoid frostbite.
I'll warn you now, whether you have already arrived in Japan or you are planning on coming here and living in the future, Japanese houses are rubbish for insulation. Absolutely rubbish. If houses were light party snacks, Japanese houses would be swiss cheese.... in the arctic. For serious. Let's say you are in a Japanese house and it's cold, so you decide to put the air conditioner on. Then after a while it gets toasty, so you turn it off again. If you do that your house will be arctic cold again in under half an hour. I am not exaggerating. So the Japanese have many useful devices for keeping warm. The kotatsu is one of them.
You can get many different types, just like you can any table. You could buy a coffee table kotatsu, or a study desk kotatsu, or a dining table kotatsu, the key element that makes it different is...well, the element! The heating element. Under the table top there will be some form of heating device. Cheaper kotatsus will have large clunky heaters that glow red and you will always bang your knee on the guard casing, where as the most expensive ones will have a super-thin, flat heating pad that spans the table underside from end to end. The middle of the range will be a nice compact heater that should keep you warm without too much trouble. We got the latter.
Now, "won't all this lovely heat escape?" you may also ask. After my fearful introduction I can see why you might be concerned, but worry not because kotatsu come with (or require on separate purchase) a futon (thick blanket) that forms a curtain around the table edge and keeps the heat inside. All you need do is insert your cold little legs into the warm space and experience what chocolate feels like on the tongue of a hot girl in an expensive sweet commercial. You can also buy special padded seats for sitting at the shorter kotatsu, or any seat of your choice will do. If you are worried that while your legs are warm the rest of you is cold, don't, because that warmth spreads up your body and makes you feel like you are in a dry, hot bath.
There is one more difference in your choice of price range. Cheaper kotasu will have an on/off switch, but others have a control panel attached to the electric cable. This will allow you to moderate the degree of heat required and more expensive models are fit with a timer. That allows you to safely fall asleep and not dehydrate or have your legs spontaneously combust, because there in lies the problem with the kotatsu. It's so lovely and comfortable that people fall asleep and doze, so work doesn't get done and people don't want to move at all.
I've also encountered the problem that sitting at the kotatsu for a long period of time gives me a bad back, but maybe I just need better seating.
You can get kotatsu from many home stores and even online at Amazon if you wish (we are in no way endorsed by Amazon). Many deliver for free and require little assembly. Though please watch our video to find out how I manage to muck up putting ours together even though it has only 6 screws and 6 separate parts.
In our next blog we'll be taking a more general look at the differences you'll first notice in Japanese homes, so stick around. In the meantime, if you have any comments or there is any topic you want us to cover, please leave a comment below. Don't forget to subscribe for future episodes!