Monday, January 8, 2018

Kotatsu at the Zoo and in the Home

Cats, ‘kotatsu’ tables provide warm welcome at Tochigi zoo

The Asahi Shimbun  by YUSUKE YANARU/ Staff Writer  January 8, 2018

Photo/IllutrationVisitors to the Nasu Animal Kingdom zoo in Nasu, Tochigi Prefecture, can play with cats while warming their legs and feet under the “kotatsu” heated tables. (Yusuke Yanaru)

NASU, Tochigi Prefecture--For winter visitors to the Nasu Animal Kingdom zoo here, “kotatsu” heated tables are provided to keep their legs and feet toasty while the cats all around will warm their hearts.

The special winter kotatsu service is marking its seventh year, allowing sightseers to spend time with the animals at two kotatsu with benches set up in the corner of a space for the free-roaming small dogs and cats.

Although ordinary kotatsu require people to remove their shoes, visitors to the facility can sit at the heated tables without slipping off their footwear.

The Nasu Animal Kingdom keeps about 20 cats from across the world. They are allowed to relax with visitors at the exchange section, except when they are performing in shows.

As “dotera” padded kimono are also available there, the space is the best place for visitors who grow tired from all the walking around to rest. They can enjoy stroking and viewing various cats from mixed-breed felines to short-haired and long-haired ones that relax around kotatsu or are curled up in an earthen pot on the table.

Maki Hattori, 35, and Yukari Masuda, 30, who were visiting the zoo from Tokyo, described the cats as being “really cute” and the exchange section as “fun and relaxing.”

The kotatsu service will continue through mid-March. For more information visit the website ( 

Don't know what a kotatsu is? 
from Wikipedia

A kotatsu (炬燵) is a low, wooden table frame covered by a futon, or heavy blanket, upon which a table top sits. Underneath is a heat source, formerly a charcoal brazier but now electric, often built into the table itself. Kotatsu are used almost exclusively in Japan, although similar devices are used elsewhere: for example the Spanish brasero or Iranian korsi.

Types of heating and layers of the kotatsu


The history of the kotatsu begins in the Muromachi era during the fourteenth century. Its origins begin with the Japanese cooking hearth, known as the irori. Charcoal was the primary method of cooking and heating in the traditional Japanese household and was used to heat the irori. By the fourteenth century in Japan, a seating platform was introduced to the irori and its cooking function became separated from its seating function. On top of the wooden platform a quilt was placed, known as an oki that trapped and localized the heat of the charcoal burner. This early ancestor to the modern kotatsu was called a hori-gotatsu. The word hori-gotatsu (掘り炬燵) is derived from the kanji 掘り (hori) meaning ditch, digging, (ko) meaning torch or fire, and (tatsu) meaning foot warmer.

The formation of the hori-gotatsu was slightly changed in the Edo Period during the seventeenth century. These changes consisted of the floor around the irori being dug-out into the ground in a square shape. The wooden platform was placed around this, making a hearth. Then the blanket was placed on top of the platform again, where one could sit with legs underneath to stay warm.

A modern Japanese kotatsu

The moveable kotatsu was created later, originating from the concept of hori-gotatsu. This kotatsu came about with the popular use of tatami matting in Japanese homes. Instead of placing the charcoals in the irori, they were placed in an earthen pot which was placed on the tatami making the kotatsu transportable. This more modern style kotatsu is known as the oki-gotatsu. The word oki-gotatsu (置き炬燵) is derived from the kanji 置き (oki) meaning placement, meaning torch or fire, and meaning foot warmer.

The underside of an electric kotatsu

In the middle of the twentieth century charcoal was replaced with electricity as a heating source. Instead of having the moveable earthen pot of charcoals beneath the kotatsu, it was possible to attach an electric heating fixture directly to the frame of the kotatsu. Thus, the kotatsu became completely mobile with electricity and became a common feature of Japanese homes during winter.

I have a sort of improvised kotatsu in my living room.  

photo: GGB
The high ceilings in my place make it impractical to try and heat the whole room, so I made a sort of kotatsu.  A wooden stool with a blanket and a small electric heater is placed in front of the place on my sofa where I sit to watch movies, read, or write.  It keeps my feet toasty.  A slouch beanie and a heavy hoodie do the same for my upper half.

Using this system to keep warm, the heater need never be turned above the "low" setting.

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