One of the beautiful things about Japan in the winter is the kotatsu. I’m sure this is something very foreign to most people so I thought I would expand on it today! A kotatsu is a low, heated table, a small, efficient way of heating a space rather than using central heating.
In THE DAYDREAMER DETECTIVE BRAVES THE WINTER, each of the homes mentioned in the book have a kotatsu and are used quite frequently. With the long winter ahead people will gather around the table, eat together, and be warmed from the feet up. The kotatsu is not unique to Japan. Low heated tables are quite common in other cultures as well, including in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Spain, Portugal, and China, but the kotatsu has a special place in Japanese family life, and from basic kotatsu to deluxe versions with special lounging pillows, almost every home in Japan has one.
By Tim Notari (tastefulTN) – flickr.com (just a wee bit cropped), CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=743925
There are two different kinds of kotatsu, one more modern and common than the other. In the past, kotatsu tables were heated from underneath using charcoal. High quality charcoal in Japan is virtually smoke-free, so it makes for a very good heating element. A low table placed over a pit with heated charcoal in it was the first iteration of the kotatsu. But if not careful, it could catch people or houses on fire, so its popularity died out as modern life took over. Now, kotatsu are heated using electrical elements. The table is then covered with a quilted blanket so heat may be trapped underneath. A stable tabletop is placed overtop the quilt, making a sandwich of the quilt and holding it in place. People can then eat or drink off the top! Even though the kotatsu is warm for both humans and animals alike, the warming effects are even more apparent while wearing a kimono. Sitting at the table, a kimono can be loosened from the waist down and the warm air can funnel up the fabric and heat the wearer all the way to his or her neck.
During the winter months, the kotatsu is the center of activity for a family. Meals are eaten at the kotatsu, television is watched, and naps are taken (though it is not a good place to sleep overnight). When people come to visit, the saké is brought out and everyone drinks together at the low heated table. There are days when I really wish I had a kotatsu of my own! In the meantime, I will continue to visit Mei in The Miso Cozy Mysteries Series and enjoy good food with her and her family around this wonderful invention, the Japanese kotatsu.