Kotatsu: The ingenious Japanese table with a skirt that keeps you warm and saves energy.


Ingenious and simple design.

Have you ever been sitting at the kitchen table, or maybe a desk, and were just too cold to be comfortable?  The most obvious answer might be to turn the heat up, right?

In Japan they have a different solution for this! It’s called a kotatsu.  Basically, it’s a table with a blanket around the edges and a heating element underneath.

What?? It’s okay if your “Western” mentality finds this a bit odd.  I remember by parents reprimanding my siblings and I for bringing blankets to the table.  But in Japan, it’s very much a part of their tradition.

Traditional Japanese homes aren’t heavily insulated.  You may have a picture of those paper screens.  The Japanese use many other building materials than that, but for the most part, traditional homes have thin walls, with lots of ventilation. 

To heat a room in a house built this way would be a huge waste of fuel.  No sooner would the heat leave the heat source than it would exit the building, keeping no-one warm.

Rather than waste all that firewood on heating, they developed the kotatsu.  Imagine a table with a skirt.  A well insulated skirt made like a comforter.  Beneath the table there would be a heating element, traditionally hot coals.

kotatsu diagram

Think Cozy!

Did you ever make a fort under a table when you were a kid?  It’s like that; creating a small space within a bigger space, that is more efficient to heat.  People then sit with the comforter over their laps, to take advantage of the heated space beneath the table.

When it comes to efficient temperature control, the maxim “heat people, not places” is an effective credo.  It takes significantly less energy to apply warmth directly to a body than to heat up an entire space enough for said body to feel comfortable.

This same concept fits in perfectly with a modern sustainable home.  Rather than heating up the whole dining room, you could have one of these tables with a skirt that keeps you warm directly, while you are sitting there.  You can also use this concept in the living room, where you may spend a lot of time in the evenings when it is more likely to be chilly.

Thankfully, modern heating implements are electric, and are far less of a fire hazard than a clay jar with hot coals.  Not only can this model help reduce your energy bill and carbon footprint, it can also bring your family closer together through the time you spend cozied up around the kotatsu.

Do you have a kotatsu, or have you used one? What do you like about it?  Share in the comments below.

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