No Japanese home would be complete without one; yes today we’re here to talk about a heated table, the kotatsu! It has been a staple in Japanese homes since the 14th century, and it’s easy to see why. In addition to being a great way to save on your electricity bill, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of lazing about on a cold winter day under the warmth of a heated table while sitting on a comfy futon mattress.
You most likely have already seen plenty of these short square tables in dramas or anime. They’re considered the heart of the home as the whole family will usually gather around the kotatsu on any given winter day. Although they’re quite simple to make, you can also opt to buy full sets on Amazon to save on the hassle. We\ve put together a DIY guide so you can make your own and rounded up some of our favorites to create this kotatsu buying guide so you can keep you and your family warm and toasty this winter season!
What is a Kotatsu Table?
A Kotatsu is a low wooden table that has a built in heater and an attachable futon. Under is a wooden frame on which the heater is placed. The futon is then placed above the frame to help keep the heat insulated. Finally the table top is placed over everything, keeping it together.
Japanese homes are known for having poor insulation, so houses get quite cold during the winter. The futon in the middle helps trap the heat inside so that it only heats up the space that you’re actually using and this is a great way to save electricity.
Kotatsu in Japanese Culture
The first ever appearance of the kotatsu in Japan was discovered in the Muromachi Period, in the 14th century, when the imperial capital was located in Kyoto. During this time, Japanese homes had an indoor charcoal fire pit called an irori, which they mainly used to cook meals. During the winters, a sheet would be placed over the irori, trapping the heat so that it can be used for warmth. This make-shift heated space was called a hori-gotatsu, which directly translates to “ditch kotatsu”.
During the 17th century Edo Period, the irori was improved and the hori-gotatsu along with it. The irori was made more compact, which allowed for leg room to be available around it and the warmth of the hori-gotatsu could be felt from much closer.
Further improvements were made during this period and the irori was placed inside a container instead of a fixed part of the floor. This allowed families to place the irori under a table with a blanket and the modern day version was born.
This version of kotatsu was innovated once again in the 20th century, with the commercial use of electricity. The charcoal irori was replaced with an electric heater that attaches to the bottom of the table. This allowed for full transportability and many variations were invented as well.
Benefits of Having a Kotatsu Table
Acting as both a heater and a table, the kotatsu comes with various benefits.
- Fast heating: Space heaters can take some time before heating up all the way. These heat up right away so you won't have to idle around in the cold
- Lower electricity bill: The furniture only heats up places that need to be heated and the blanket acts as a great insulator, trapping the heat under. Therefore, it doesn't have to constantly consume power to keep it warm, lowering electricity cost. By switching to one of these, electricity bills can decrease up to 90%!
- Family time: Having one warm place in the house can be a great way to gather the family. Many Japanese families enjoy gathering at the kotatsu to watch TV, eat dinner, play board games, and just bond as a family in general.
Drawbacks of Owning a Kotatsu
- Makes you lazy: If you're trying to be productive, then perhaps this isn't the best place to do it. The comfort of the warmth can quickly make you drowsy.
- Caution with babies and pets: If you have babies or pets, you need to keep supervision while its on.
How to Make a DIY Kotatsu Table
A Kotatsu Table is actually much easier to build than it looks. In fact, we actually recommend building one yourself since it you’d be able to hand select your table and save on costs.
Materials you need
The only requirement for converting your coffee table into a Kotatsu Table is that it has two surfaces. You'll essentially be attaching the heater to the top surface and stacking the second surface on top. We found the Sauder North Avenue to be the best coffee table for making a Kotatsu Table. It's both affordable and has a stylish design to fit in with just about any interior!
Before, we'd recommend getting the Kotatsu Heater made specifically for Kotatsu tables, but we found that using a radiant heating panel was much easier to install and does the same job. Don't worry, we'll explain how to make a Kotatsu table with both.
Here are links to our favorite Kotatsu heater and radiant heating panel.
L Bracket Corners (For Kotatsu heaters)
If you'll be going the classic route and using the Kotatsu Heater, you'll need some L bracket corners to attach the heating unit to the table.
Power Transformer (for kotatsu heaters)
The Kotatsu heater we mentioned above works just fine with American voltages, but if you're using another heater (or any Japanese items in general), you'll need a power transformer.
Finally, if you're going to make a Kotatsu Table, you'll need a futon. Honestly, you can use just about any futon and it'll get the job done, but if you'd like to use a Kotatsu-specific one, here's a link to our favorite product!
Step 1: Assemble the Table
Once you receive all the necessary parts, the first step is to assemble the coffee table. When putting it together, you want assemble everything except the bottom shelf. This extra slap will be used to keep the futon in place after completing the kotatsu table.
Step 2: Mounting the Heater (kotatsu heater)
Once the table is assembled, its time to mount the heater. Screw the corner braces onto the sides of the heater and then onto the bottom side of the table top. When positioning the corner braces, you want to leave a bit of space between the table and the heater to prevent any accidents.
STEP 2: MOUNTING THE HEATER (radial heating panel)
If you're using the radial heating panel instead, all you gotta do is to attach the panel to the bottom side of your table!
Step 3: Secure the Futon on Top of the Table
With the table assembled and the heater in place, it's time to cover everything with the futon. Make sure that all sides are even and covered. Once it's done, place the extra slab of table top on top of the futon to secure it in place.
Step 4: Turn on the Heater and Enjoy
Turn on the heater and test to see if the kotatsu is working. Most heaters are from Japan and if yours is too, you'll need to use a transformer.
If everything is working fine but you still don't feel quite comfortable, try adding a carpet or a floor sofa to compliment the comfort.
How to Use a Kotatsu Table
Setting it Up
When setting it up, set the base where you want to use it and cover it with a futon. Make sure that your futon is evenly distributed and place the table top over it. Once it's set, plug the heater onto the outlet and turn it on.
Protip: Using a kotatsu table is much more enjoyable if you have something under to sit on. This could be a rug, cushion, sofa seat, or anything comfortable.
Putting the Kotatsu Away
Once the summer months come, you won't be using your kotatsu heater as often. If you decide to use it as a normal coffee table, just unplug the cord and put only the cord away. If you plan on putting the entire furniture away, it's good to invest into a foldable version so that it takes up less space in your storage.
Washing the Futon
Washing your futon before putting it away is essential for keeping it clean and long lasting. After washing your futon, make sure to dry it completely before putting it away. The best way to do this is to dry it outside for a whole day.
Kotatsu Table Safety Tips
- Be alert when pets and babies are around, especially when close to the heater. Keep heater settings at the lowest if they are under the table.
- Don't leave the heater on when you're not in the house.
- If you're falling asleep while under, keep your body parts away from the heater to prevent burns.
Kotatsu Table Buying Guide
For those that are not into building your own futon, there are many sold on Amazon. Before choosing one to purchase, here are some qualities to consider before purchasing one.
The table shape can depend on a number of factors. Circular and square shapes tend to be popular since they're equally sized. Rectangular ones tend to be great for couples that like to watch TV together. There are also kotatsu desks for those that like to get work done while staying warm.
Choosing a Futon
When choosing a futon, you can either go with a kotatsu futon or use an existing one around the house. The special futons tend to be more expensive due to the spacing saving design and higher quality.