Cats, ‘kotatsu’ tables provide warm welcome at Tochigi zoo
The Asahi Shimbun by YUSUKE YANARU/ Staff Writer January 8, 2018
Visitors 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)
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 (http://www.nasu-oukoku.com/contents/english2015.html).
Don't know what a kotatsu is?
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
HistoryThe 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, 炬 (ko) meaning torch or fire, and 燵 (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, 炬 meaning torch or fire, and 燵 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.
Using this system to keep warm, the heater need never be turned above the "low" setting.