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Kotatsu foot-warmers still a fixture in Japanese homes

14 Comments

A kotatsu is often seen in Japanese period flicks, where actors seated therein watch TV while they smoke or consume rice crackers or mikan (mandarin oranges). Basically it is a low wooden table frame covered by a futon, or heavy blanket, upon which a table top sits. Underneath is a heat source, typically an electric element, fastened to the underside of the table frame to project warmth in all directions. 

They are one Japanese home appliance that has never succeeded in carving out a significant market overseas.

The kotatsu subscribes to the principle of zukan-sokunetsu, literally keeping the head cold and the feet/legs hot. This is said to be especially conducive to students while they cram for university entrance examinations.

Westernization of Japanese dwellings and space considerations in urban residences has reduced the demand for these once-ubiquitous devices. In the "Be Between" online survey in the Asahi Shimbun (Jan 19), participants were asked if they used kotatsu. Out of 1,625 valid responses, 32% replied they did, as opposed to 68% who said they did not.

Still according to the survey, with 182 responses, the kotatsu was the third most common form of heating after air conditioners (500 responses) and kerosene stoves (289 responses). It was followed by heated flooring (169), gas stoves (159) and electric carpets (100).

The most commonly cited reasons for preferring not to use a kotatsu were: Other forms of heating are sufficient; once seated, one tends to avoid getting up; no space available for its placement; it occupies too much space in the room; and cleaning around it is inconvenient.

As for their benefits, users generally agreed that they are highly economical in terms of power consumption, don't require the user to refill tanks or mess with siphons, and that the chances of their causing burns or accidental fires are little to none.

Interestingly, 81% of the respondents who did not use a kotatsu said they had formerly done so, which would indicate a high portion of Japanese adults had used kotatsu at one point in their lives, but for various reasons abandoned them.

One user, a 46-year-old woman in Hokkaido, complained being seated at one tends to make people drowsy.

"I'd wake up and it would already be past midnight, and I'd look at the ceiling light still on and think, regrettably, 'Ahhh it happened again,'" she wrote.  

On a different tack, Shukan Asahi (Feb 1) warns that carelessness in use of a kotatsu can literally kill you.

"When you settle into a kotatsu, it is better to heat the room, and also use a humidifier to increase the moisture in the air," Dr Kimihiro Yoneyama of the Yoneyama Hospital in Tokyo's suburb of Akiruno, tells the magazine. "During summer it's said dehydration can make one vulnerable to strokes, but actually strokes are more common in winter. That's because sudden changes in temperature can cause blood pressure to fluctuate."

To avoid tragedy, the article issues seven precautions for kotatsu users. First, the room in which the kotatsu is placed should have a reasonable level of warmth and humidity. Those seated therein should drink the equivalent of one cup of water or other liquid per hour. It is recommended to get up and move around every 30 minutes to one hour.

Moreover, a kotatsu's thermostat should be set to the lowest comfortable position. It is advised not to sleep while seated therein, and a timer should be utilized to avoid overly long usage. And finally, one should not park one's body in a kotatsu following a bout of heavy drinking.

As a cold spell is predicted to hit most parts of Japan during the coming week, readers with a kotatsu at home might want to take the above precautions to heart.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

14 Comments
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Lack of insulation and of double-pane windows still a fixture in Japanese homes.

16 ( +16 / -0 )

I remember sitting at one of those tables drinking with some Japanese friends. Way too uncomfortable after about an hour.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

kotatsu is often seen in Japanese period flicks, where actors seated therein watch TV while they smoke or consume rice crackers or mikan 

No smoking and beer and edamame is even better.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Yeah, I'd prefer better insulation. But I guess it keeps the gas and electricity companies happy.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Better to play footsies

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Hot feet and legs, cold upper body. Pointless. We don't have one of these ridiculous devices. Why not insulate homes instead?

6 ( +8 / -2 )

If your legs are warm, your whole body feels warm.

1 ( +6 / -5 )

Insulating the house is dangerous to body, it absorbs some sort of chemicals through air.

So this traditonal heating is healthly preferred in Japan, however On-Sen is always on the top.

-15 ( +1 / -16 )

The Showa Period refuses to die.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

High insulation of homes in wild climate/humidity changes between summer and winter results in high cost because the heat that is trapped inside during the winter will also be trapped in the summer resulting to requiring more cooling.

If you try to cut off infrared by covering the windows with plastic sheets during the summer it will also result in cutting off the rays from entering the home in winter resulting to requiring more heating again costing you more.

The constant heating/cooling in the room will also make you feel more discomfort when going out.

-13 ( +1 / -14 )

@triring @backpackingnepal

Some slightly confused thinking there, generally warming feet with electric carpet or underfloor heating is efficient, tinting windows can help, as can heavy curtains, we use reverse cycle air-conditioning for both heating and cooling, as its much safer than kerosene

10 ( +10 / -0 )

Outside the big cities, many places have no insulation and insufficient amperage to support a full heating system, so a kotatsu is a good way to stay warm. While health concerns about its use are noted, getting cold isn’t all that healthy either.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

In Spain many times ago we used the "brasero" an occidental kotatsu, but the use has lost by people who prefers other type of warm. It was an ecological and cheap

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Insulating the house is dangerous to body, it absorbs some sort of chemicals through air.

Untrue - pseudo science at best, but more probably made up nonsense.

High insulation of homes in wild climate/humidity changes between summer and winter results in high cost because the heat that is trapped inside during the winter will also be trapped in the summer resulting to requiring more cooling.

Good insulation helps keen the heat in in winter and the heat out in summer. Other countries with hot summers and cold winters have worked this out.

If you do it properly, you will barely need any heating at all:

http://passivehouse-japan.org/

11 ( +11 / -0 )

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