Japanese winters are brutal. The country is cold, but what really freezes you during the winter months is the fact that Japanese houses have about zero consideration for winter temperatures whatsoever. They are not insulated, they have no central heating units, and they are full of huge windows that radiate what little heat your body is able to produce out to the outside world. I sleep in a professional mountaineering sleeping bag, which keeps me warm, but every morning I can see each breath as it exits my mouth, and thawing my toothpaste and my shampoo with hot water has become a (necessary) daily ritual. This post is long overdue, but here, I will show you a little device that almost EVERY Japanese household owns, and that is really key to how the people here get through the winter. Behold, the kotatsu.
Mekans (clementines), hot sake, and the kotatsu. The three pieces of equipment that no person living in Japan during the winter should be without. I know what you’re thinking, thats just a table with a blanket sticking out of it. Right, but only half right. You’re about to go further down the rabbit hole. Are you ready?
Bam. There is a heater built into the top of the table. The basic idea is that the top of the table is actually removable, but below the top itself is a frame with the heater, and between this top and the frame you sandwich a warm blanket to insulate the area below. You and all your friends /family then stick your legs underneath the table and enjoy the sweet warmth of the kotatsu over a pile of mikans (clementines) and a bottle of sake. The Japanese basically spend the entire winter underneath these things, and I am doing the same. It is where you study, where you watch TV, where you play cards, and even sometimes where you sleep! They’re really cheap and save you a ton on electricity bills.
Below is a dramatic reenactment of a typical evening spent with my friends over here (Nara deer included)