What are Kotatsu and Chabudai?

Have you ever been to Japan? Then you are familiar with the low tables they use. If not, you shouldn’t get surprised that the Japanese use floor tables in their homes.

Are you wondering why?

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It’s because the Japanese embrace their culture.

The bond between the people of Japan and their old way of living is strong. The lack of contact with the outside world for an extended period made the Japanese practice their culture without influence.

As a result, there was a deeper connection with the way they did their things.

It was not possible to break the deep-rooted culture of the Japanese when other countries finally accessed Japan.

Today, you will find things that the Japanese did centuries ago been practiced. An excellent example is the use of their short tables known as Kotatsu and Chabudai.

In this guide, you shall learn everything you need to know about these tables. The two types of tables don’t have much difference.

The Chabudai gets used during the warm season, while the Kotatsu is only functional during the cold weather.

Let’s evaluate each table for a better understanding.

The Chabudai

What are Kotatsu and Chabudai? 1

It is a short-legged table popular in Japan. A Chabudai’s height can range from 15cm to 30cm. The Japanese design them in a way that they can collapse for easy storage.

Creating space after using these low tables is easy. You only need to fold and keep them away.

Because you cannot use a standard chair for sitting around a Chabudai, the Japanese use floor chairs or tatami mats. The Chabudais come with multiple purposes. You can use them to;

  • Din
  • Study
  • Have tea and other drinks
  • Work on simple tasks and projects

You can do anything on a Chabudai that you would on a typical table. No wonder certain theories say that the word ‘Chebudai’ got derived from ‘Cha,’ meaning tea.

Others argue that the name is a Chinese word that means ‘to sit at a table.’ These various explanations indicate the versatility of these short tables.

Though the Chebudais got used centuries ago, it is not until the late 1800s that they spread throughout Japan. The tables usually come in a circular design, which is symbolic.

Japan advocate for a nuclear family, a concept that inspired the round shape of the Chabudais.

With these tables, there is no hierarchy. A family sits around the Chebudai and enjoys a meal, drink, or pass the time catching with no barrier.

Because these tables are small, people find themselves near each other while around the table.

As a result, they bond quickly and stronger.

A Chabudai comes with various features as follows;

Features of a Chabudai

With the following features, you can easily differentiate a Chabudai from other tables.

i. Height

It is the main feature that distinguishes a Chabudai. In ancient times, the Japanese used Chabudais of approximately 15cm in height. Today, you can find a Chabudai with a height of up to 30cm.

ii. Shape

As explained above, the Chabudais come in circular shapes, for they have a meaning. The tables got designed to bring families together.

But due to the outside’s influence, some people build Chabudais with a square, oblong, or ellipsis shape.

If buying or building one, you will have to consider the design you want. But an authentic Japanese Chabudais has a circular shape.

iii. Size

Like other tables, the Chabudais come in various sizes. It depends on the size of your family or the purpose of the table. The space available for the table also determines its size.

If you have a big family or a large room, a large Chabudais will work out great.

But the Japanese don’t own large tables because they have enough space; they consider the purpose. If the big Chabudais have no purpose despite the available space, the Japanese don’t keep them.

The Japanese culture gets based on the aspect of minimalism.

A thing will find its way into a Japanese room only if it has got a purpose. That’s why you may find a large room in a Japanese house but with a small-sized Chabudai.

iv. Materials

The ancient Japanese used carefully selected wood to build a Chabudai. They would inspect the pieces of wood and eliminate any imperfections.

Afterward, the wood would be used in making a round-shaped table of a specific size.

The handcrafted Chabudais could get made with oak, pine, and stain. Other readily available materials are currently being used to make Chabudais as some of these wood sources are getting wiped out and hard to access.

As a result, they become endangered species, and most governments commit themselves to protecting them.

v. Finish

A Chabudai comes with various finishes. Some get finished with lacquer, which makes them very attractive and easy to maintain. For various colors, some craftsmen become creative.

They sandwich different layers of lacquer. The results are amazing. Anyone would love such a piece of furniture in his or her room.

Other Chabudai tables don’t come with any finish. They expose the surface of the wood used in its making.

Such a table comes with the natural color of the wood grain. Though the table may look rough, the wood’s natural stains and smell give a refreshing and natural feeling. The cedar smell is impressive.

Some artisans oil the wood’s surface to improve the table’s appearance and longevity. If you are looking for a Chabudai, you will have various finish options to decide. Go for what you prefer and fits your budget.

vi. Mobility

Traditional Chabudais were less bulky and came in a manageable size. The ancient Japanese advocated for simplicity and functionality.

Such a table was easy to move around as it was light and foldable. But due to Western culture’s influence, some Chabudais come made with bulky materials and in large sizes. Moving such tables may be tricky.

You can find examples of Chabudais on Pinterest.

About Kotatsu

What are Kotatsu and Chabudai? 2

Unlike the Chebudai, it comes with a heat source located underneath. It stands approximately 14 – inches from the ground. The top is usually covered by a heavy Japanese blanket known as a futon.

People can use the table for dining or other tasks. A wooden plane gets placed on top of the futon.

When the heat source is on, the futon helps trap the heat, keeping the legs of the people sited around warm. In the olden times, the only heat sources available were lamps or fire pit, also known as irori.

You may worry about the safety of such a setting, and you are right.

Kotatsu tables have been known to start fires and burn down houses. Modern Kotatsus use electric heaters that are well protected using metal prongs to prevent such dangers.

But the warming idea of the Kotatsu was brilliant. It made the Japanese survive through the winter or cold season.

Because of the Kotatsu tables’ purpose, it is interesting to know how these tables get made. Here is the insight;

A Step by Step Guide on Making a Kotatsu Table

You can also make a Kotatsu table because it’s not hard. It is a perfect DIY home project.

Step 1: Collecting the Required Materials

The first thing artisans do is assemble all the necessary materials. The items required include;

  • Futon
  • Heater
  • Seat pillows
  • Tatami mat
  • Screws
  • Corner brackets
  • Drill
kotatsu table
Elements of a Kotatsu table

Step 2: Table Preparation

The artisan then makes a short table approximately 14 – inches from the ground. The size depends on the purpose, the number of people to use it, or the space available.

The maker uses various materials, as illustrated earlier, to make the table.

Step 3: Heater Mounting

After the table is ready, it gets flipped over to mount the heater. The builder usually doesn’t use any heater. He goes for a heater made purposely for the Kotatsu.

A Kotatsu heater comes with heated tubes inside a case for safety reasons.

First, the artisan installs brackets under the table using four screws. He then put the heater inside the brackets and secures it using screws.

Step 4: Placing the Futon

When the heater is optimally secured on the table, the maker flips the table over to stand upright. Then a futon gets spread on top of the table.

Step 5: Putting the Cover Top

After the comforter has been placed well over the table, a hardcover gets put on top. Voila! The table is complete.

The table gets used with seat pillows, tatami mats, or floor chairs. Kotatsu tables vary in price due to the materials used, design, size, and accessories that come with them.

The heat fixture also determines a Kotatsu cost. Based on the above information about Kotatsus, you may want to know how much they cost. You may want to buy one. Here is the Insight;

The Price of a Kotatsu

An authentic Kotatsu from Japan ranges from approximately $600. But the market has Kotatsus with price tags down to $120. It could be because of the size, the luxury elements, and the materials used.

Some Kotatsus are small such that they host only one or two people!

With the above information about the Chabudais and Kotatsu, you know that they come designed low. It could prompt you to want to know why. Here is the reason;

Why Japanese Tables Are Low

The main reason is their culture. The Japanese love sleeping and sitting on the floor. They have been practicing this for centuries ago. Because they love their culture, they continue with the practice today.

For easy usability, while seated, their tables had to be made low.

Another reason is the environmental dangers in Japan. The country is renowned for experiencing storms and earthquakes. In case of such events, large furniture would pose more danger to the people.

Low tables are safe to use as they can hardly block the way or cause much damage.

Japanese houses are generally small. Low tables help conserve space, making it another reason why the Japanese opt to use low tables.

The Japanese don’t use their tables anyhow. When eating, the table must get set in a certain way. Wondering how?

Setting a Japanese Table

What are Kotatsu and Chabudai? 3

The bowl of rice is usually set to the left. The main dish comes in the center. If there’s a bowl of soup, it comes on the right side while the chopsticks rest on the front.

The setting is usually organized, making it convenient to eat.

The fascinating Japanese low tables may have excited you, and you want to own one. There is no need to worry. You can access one in various stores or online.

But before buying, you need to consider some factors for a better user experience. The following are points to have in mind while buying a Kotatsu or Chabudai.

What to Consider Before Buying a Kotatsu

i. Weather

Kotatsus are great to use during the cold season. You wouldn’t want to add more heat to your room during a hot day. You could end up fainting or feeling uncomfortable.

ii. Futon

Consider the blanket covering used on the Kotatsu. Some come heavy while others are light. Others contain a material that can easily catch fire or allow heat to escape.

You may also need to factor in what you like. Some futons’ color and design may not please your eyes.

iii. Heat Fixture

Check out the kind of heat fixture used in Kotatsu. Is it protected to avoid burning people or causing a fire? Is the heat source open or closed? What kind of heat source is installed?

Open and raw heat sources are dangerous. Most people prefer the electric heat source. It is safer than the traditional sources of heat.

iv. Table Cover

Check whether the tabletop placed on the futon is sturdy. Can it handle the things you want to do on the table? Is it pleasing to the eyes? Does it blend well with the interior décor?

What to Consider Before Buying a Chebudai

I. The Number of People to Use It

It does not make sense to buy a small table while the people to use it are many. Consider your family members. Buy one that accommodates everyone.

II. Round Shaped

Round-shaped Chebudais are flexible. You can easily squeeze in some people.

If you are to use your Chebudai around various people at intervals, like in an office, a round-shaped Chebudai will work out great. It is also great for dining or family use.

III. The Rectangular or Oblong Shaped

Rectangular-shaped tables are typical around the world. The Japanese have also embraced this shape in their Chebudais. A rectangular or oblong-shaped Chebudai fits in a room efficiently.

IV. Square Shaped

A squared Chebudai signifies hierarchy. It is ideal for conducting open dialogue. But the table cannot accommodate many people.

Squared tables lack flexibility and are used to host a specific number of people. Such a table is ideal for an office or private space.

V. Folding Feature

One of the Chebudais’ main aspects is to preserve space. If you require more space, you should consider buying a Chebudai with a folding feature.

It would be easy to remove and store the table after use. Such a table will allow you to use your room for various reasons despite the space available.

The above are the main reasons to consider before getting a Kotatsu or Chebudai. When you acquire one, you need to maintain it for longevity. But how do you take care of these tables? Here is the insight;

Maintaining a Kotatsu and Chabudai

Whether you go for a Chebudai or Kotatsu, you need to maintain them.

As a result, they will give you service for many years. Because both table types are near the ground, catching dust, stains, water, and other unwanted stuff is easy.

You should, therefore, dust them regularly and deep clean them periodically. Clean the wood used in their making using the correct method.

Otherwise, you may spoil the wood and interfere with the finishing.

Always use a soft, damp cloth. A wet one will saturate the wood material. Dip the cloth in soapy water and wring it until all the water is out. Then wipe clean the table and leave it to dry.

Remove stubborn water stains with a mixture of baking soda and toothpaste. Stains from hot drinks can get removed by applying toothpaste to the affected area.

Then, use a soft cloth to rub the area until the stain disappears. Wipe the area with a damp cloth until spotlessly clean.

With time, your Chebudai table may accumulate polish. In such a case, boil some tea bags and allow the tea water to cool. Then dip a soft cloth into it and wring out the water.

Use a damp cloth to wipe the surface of the table. Your Chebudai will shine and look great again. Thanks to the tannic acid found in strong tea. It helps revitalize the wood used in making the table.


As illustrated above, the Japanese culture is here to stay. The Chabudais and Kotatsus are not only famous throughout Japan but are also gaining fame all over the world.

Though both tables come with short legs, they are comfortable and convenient to use.

If you want one, consider the factors stated above before buying. The tables have an aesthetic appeal and create space in a room. You can also use them for various purposes. The Kotatsu will keep you warm during the winter.