Japan’s Kotatsu Heated Tables Evolve to Reflect the Changing Times

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A woman sits at a single person-kotatsu at Cainz’ Makuhari branch in Narashino, Chiba Prefecture.

Changes in Japanese lifestyles are being reflected by the emergence of new types of kotatsu — the traditional table with internal heating that is often draped with a futon quilt to retain the warmth.

Popular choices include single-person kotatsu — reflecting an increase in the number of remote workers — and one for those who prefer to sit in chairs (as opposed to on the floor), which is said to suit a more Westernized way of life.

“It’s suddenly become very cold, so more and more people are snapping up kotatsu,” said a 24-year-old sales assistant in charge of home electric appliances at home center Cainz’s Makuhari branch in Narashino, Chiba Prefecture.

A single person-kotatsu made by appliance maker Yuasa Primus Co. is among those proving a hit. The table-top measures about 55 centimeters square and is 57 centimeters high — a good height for someone seated in a chair. Sections of the legs can be removed to lower the height to 38 centimeters for those who prefer to use the kotatsu while lying on the floor.

Cainz also sells other heated tables suitable for use by one to two persons. Since the number of people working remotely has increased, such products tend to be mostly purchased by those looking for a work-friendly kotatsu.

Removing the futon quilt allows the kotatsu to be used as a desk. “It’s convenient because it can be adjusted to your liking depending on the situation,” the sales assistant said.

One university student living alone came to the store to buy such an item, saying, “I don’t want a heater that uses real fire or an air conditioner with heater that could increase my electricity bill and make the air in the room too dry.”

Suited to remote work

Uniquely designed kotatsu are also proliferating.

In October, mail order website Dinos began marketing a 40-centimeter, counter-like kotatsu. The top board sports two power outlets. Dinos is encouraging purchasers to use it as a table for remote work and home study. The kotatsu does not require a quilt, and the heater attached to the underside keeps the legs warm. The table has a certain visual appeal, too, having been crafted from the wooden barrels of a whisky distillery.

Courtesy of Dinos Corp.
This table-style kotatsu has a heater attached beneath the top board.

Home appliance company Lithon, meanwhile, sells a rounded, tube-like kotatsu, which warms users from the knees down when seated in a chair. The sides are lined with heaters covered by material and gently envelop the legs with warm air.

“Even if you use it for a month, the electricity only costs about ¥1,000, so it’s good on the home economic-front, too,” said a Lithon employee.

Courtesy of Lithon
A tube-like kotatsu that surrounds and warms from the knees down

For its part, major furniture manufacturer and retailer Nitori Co. sells kotatsu with a single, centrally located leg. By pressing a pedal at the base, users can alter the table-top height from 58 centimeters to 72 centimeters. A heater is attached on the underside and the kotatsu can be used while sitting on a chair or a sofa.

Saving energy

According to Makiko Tanaka, a writer who specializes in home appliances, a kotatsu uses about one third the electricity of an air conditioner when used for the same amount of time. Some kotatsu come with a sensor that turns the power off when the kotatsu is vacated, helping cut electricity bills.

“Since the novel coronavirus pandemic, more and more people have been spending longer periods of time at home,” Tanaka said. “This has led to the rediscovery of kotatsu as cost-efficient and comfortable heating devices, and people have begun seeking out models with new designs that reflect the times.”