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The Japanese homes are nothing like the western homes. During winter or cold seasons, households in western countries use heaters. But in Japan, people use unusual tables known as Kotatsu to warm themselves and their homes. It is an ancient practice the Japanese embrace and uses today.
The Kotatsu entails a heating system underneath the table. It may raise safety concerns because the kind of heating source used during old times was an open fire called irori. Some still use this kind of heating today. If not managed properly, it could be hazardous.
In this article, you shall learn the safety precautions to take when using a Kotatsu. It is difficult to take precautions for something you hardly know or understand. That’s why you shall also get insight into essential details about a Kotatsu in this guide. Let’s start by defining a Kotatsu.
The Kotatsu are short tables made only by the Japanese. They are a significant symbol of their floor culture, where they eat and sleep on the floor. The ancient Kotatsu got made with a simple wood structure. Then a comforter or blanket known as a futon got placed on top. If the users wanted to use the table, a hard tabletop got placed over the futon.
Underneath the Kotatsu, a heat source got placed. It included a lamp or irori. The futon could seal the table properly to prevent heat from the lamp or irori from escaping. The heating source differentiated this Kotatsu from the Japanese Chabudai table.
The Chabudai does not come with a futon or heat source. It’s usually a standard table but with short legs like the Kotatsu. Chabudai’s are useful during the hot season while the Kotatsu get used in the cold season.
But due to the influence from the west and the availability of other heating sources, currently, the Kotatsu are made using various heating sources. Electricity and solar sources are safer to use and readily available, explaining why most artisans install them in the Kotatsu today.
Like the typical tables, Kotatsu comes in various sizes and designs. Some are small, while others are large. It depends on the space available and the number of people using the table. Some Kotatsu designs come higher than others, but they are all short compared to the standard tables.
In the past, when the fire underneath was left for long, the futons could catch fire. Here is a report on fire accidents caused by Kotatsu.
Kotatsu Fire Accident Report
According to the National Evaluation and Technology Infrastructure Organization (NITE) alert, Kotatsu using heat sources like charcoal, briquettes, and coal caused approximately 179 fire accidents between 2005 and 2009.
Fire catching one or more rooms occurred in 85 cases. Serious injury accidents occurred in three instances and 22 cases of severe accidents. Also, within this time, 27 people died from the Kotatsu fire accidents. The age bracket affected most by the fire accidents were people from 60 years and above.
Thanks to modern technology, fire accidents caused by Kotatsu are a thing of the past. Today, the artisans make Kotatsu with safety in their minds. It explains why the Kotatsu doesn’t catch fire today, no matter what.
The heating units used in today’s Kotatsu are adjustable. You can tune them to produce less or more heat. If you only need your legs to get warm, you set the heat source. Others get adjusted to warm the entire room. With such a Kotatsu, you barely require an air conditioner unit.
During winter, napping under a Kotatsu is the best thing ever. But it would be best if you took precautions not to get burnt. You get to read your favorite book, watch TV, or listen to music in the comfort and warmth until you pass out. If you want to buy Kotatsu, you can find them in multiple stores all over Japan.
You can also find other dealers selling them outside Japan. If you can’t get any store near you selling Kotatsu, order online. It is much easier to buy a Kotatsu during winter than summer. The prices range due to factors like design, material used, and size. The Kotatsu is a true Japanese technology!
The outside world is not only amazed by the Japanese Kotatsu but has also embraced it. You will find most people from other cultures using Kotatsu in their homes. You may wonder why. Kotatsu has many benefits other ordinary tables do not have. They are as follows;
Benefits of Kotatsu
Most Japanese homes do not have insulation. Those insulated pose a lot of danger during natural calamities like earthquakes or storms. Japan is renowned for suffering such environmental disasters than any other country. When the disaster hits, a house installed with heaters or air conditioner units will catch fire.
Most people got severely injured or died by the fire, not the calamity’s impact like falling objects. The majority of people who survived had not installed heaters in their homes. Because Japan can get pretty cold sometimes, the Japanese invented the Kotatsu to solve this problem.
They can now stay warm during the cold season and pose less risk when a calamity hits. Some families could sometimes light open kerosene or charcoal heaters and place them at specific locations in their houses. The smell and gases produced by such heaters caused allergies and other health problems like asthma.
People from other cultures who used heat sources like paraffin and coal loved the idea of Kotatsu because they could keep warm safely and were also free from various health issues.
ii. Energy Saving
The electric heaters used in western countries consume a lot of energy. It translates into high power bills. Using a Kotatsu keeps people warm and protects them from exaggerated power bills. You will find two forms of Kotatsu today; the Okigotatsu and Horigotatsu.
The Okigotatsu is the common Kotatsu. It entails a small table with a blanket on top, covering the entire table, with a heating source underneath. The Horigotatsu is the opposite. It is a large table with a heating unit placed underneath. With a Horigotatsu, people sit on a spread dugout to keep warm.
The Japanese developed the Kotatsu in the 14th C, and they used charcoal as the heat source. In the 20th C, small, easy to carry around Kotatsu got invented. The tables are heated with electric units. People sit underneath today’s Kotatsu. The heat is usually trapped with a blanket.
Some western homes install wall unit heaters to warm their homes during winter. Such heaters can consume over 1500W of energy. A Kotatsu using an electric heater uses way much less energy. On the higher side, a Kotatsu can use approximately 500W – 600W. Some use as low as 70W!
Because the Kotatsu gets designed to warm a small place, and the heat is usually contained, only less heat gets lost. Also, these tables do not emit allergens and dust as modern heaters do. As a result, the air quality of a room using Kotatsu is high. Because of these reasons, people from other countries have fallen in love with Kotatsu.
iii. Bonding Tool
For those who love their loved ones, the Kotatsu is an essential tool in their lives. It acts as a gathering spot. Friends and family members come together and sit around the Kotatsu. Whether they din, chat or relax together, it helps them bond.
People having fun while seated around the Kotatsu enjoy a feeling like that experienced during summer campfires. The conversations done while around the table makes all the difference. It could be educational or recreational. Others share and make beautiful memories.
What families or friends do while keeping warm around the Kotatsu is what matter. Some actions can be silly and funny. For example, if someone doesn’t want to come out of the warm comfort to get something placed at a distance, he could use a long stick to hook and drag the object near. What could bring out the excitement is the struggle to achieving that goal.
There are many other things that people do around the Kotatsu that makes them bond. The Japanese winter symbol is usually an image or photo of tangerines (mikans) in a bowl resting on the Kotatsu. The use of this old piece of furniture does not seem to disappear soon. The outside world has also joined the trend.
Besides the above plus sides of the Kotatsu, there are also some downsides. Before having one, you need to consider the disadvantages associated with these tables. They are as follows;
I. Not Ideal to Use Near Small Children
Small children require warmth most of the time, but using the Kotatsu for this purpose is not a great idea. Children will always want to experiment and explore new things. As a result, most of them tamper with the heating source while investigating every corner of the table.
If using the traditional heat source types, a child may fall into the fire or burn himself. There have been numerous cases of kids injured by Kotatsu. If you have a toddler or small kid and must use a Kotatsu, ensure that you are fully on guard. Monitor the child keenly not to get hurt. Otherwise, it is wise to use a Kotatsu in a room out of reach of the kids.
II. Can Easily Fall Asleep and Get Hurt
Yes, the warmth and comfort that comes with the Kotatsu can lure you into a nice sleep. Though you may enjoy the rest, the chances are that you could roll over or move your limbs unknowingly. It can be dangerous because you could roll into the fire or hit the heater, damaging it and causing a fire.
Also, you could hit the table and make everything placed on it fall. The items could fall on you, injuring you seriously. The fallen things could also get damaged and may have costed a fortune to get them. When you feel sleepy while sited around the Kotatsu, don’t wait long. Wake up and go to sleep.
III. May Harm Your Pets
Though some animals are cautious of some dangers, others don’t. Like babies or small children, you need to supervise your pet when using a Kotatsu. A pet may go under the Kotatsu and get confused. The pet may feel like it’s trapped, just like a small baby would. As a result, it may tamper with the table or heating system.
If a Kotatsu uses a heating unit with flammable liquids like kerosene, it can be dangerous when knocked over. The spilled liquid could easily catch fire and burn the pet, table, or entire room. The damage could be fatal. Other pets may tamper with the electrical circuit by chewing them. In return, the heater short circuits, causing inconveniences.
Though electrical heaters are much safer than the rest, you should take precautions when using them around your furry friends.
IV. Cannot Be Left Unattended
Unlike the air conditioner units used in western countries, you risk leaving your Kotatsu working. Some of the ACs used by westerners are automatic. They switch themselves off when necessary. You only need to set them. Some go off when they detect danger.
Unfortunately, it’s not the same case with Kotatsu. The table will stay on until you switch it off. If it develops a problem, especially with the heating system, and you’re not around, it might be disastrous. Though we all love coming back home to a warm place during a cold season, don’t get fooled and leave your Kotatsu working. You may find that you have no home to go to; it’s all burnt down!
To avoid the above safety concerns, you need to take precautions. The following are measures you should take while using your Kotatsu.
Kotatsu Safety Precautions
a) Supervise Small Children and Pets
If your baby or furry friend has to be around while using your Kotatsu, apply total supervision. Ensure you are aware of their location and activities at all times. If you need to leave the room briefly, engage another person to monitor them. In case you are alone, leave the room with them or evacuate them to another room until you are back. Whatever you do or go, never leave them unattended.
b) Always Leave the Kotatsu Turned Off
After you finish using your Kotatsu, please turn it off. Please don’t leave the heating system on as it could get faulty and pose a risk. Even though you will be gone for a few hours, ensure you switch it off. Never leave it working to warm your space. Inherent dangers await unattended Kotatsu, as discussed above.
c) Avoid Sleeping Beneath the Kotatsu
Anything can happen while you are sleep. The worst part is that you are unconscious. In case of anything, you can get harmed easily. You can also move your limbs unconsciously, hitting the heating element. The results could be severe burns or damaging the unit.
d) Avoid Drying Clothes Under an Electric Kotatsu
The direct electric current causes shock when in contact with water. If you hang wet clothes under your Kotatsu, in case there’s an opening or unsealed place in the electric system, you could get shocked. Some cases are severe. A person could get permanently maimed. You could also get killed by an electric shock.
e) Place Things Away From the Heater
When you place heavy items on the table’s top, it could suppress and interfere with the heating system. As a result, the heat source could break or short circuit, thereby posing a risk. When you place a chair, futon, or anything else near the heating unit, it could catch fire.
f) Secure the Heating System
It doesn’t matter what heating system is installed in your Kotatsu; ensure it’s secured. It should not be open or direct. There should be a protective cover. It will bar the heater from affecting the table or anything near in case of an accident.
For the electric heaters, avoid placing their power cords where peoples’ legs can tamper with them. You should also not use the cable with the table’s underlay. Always take caution not to twist or bend the cord; it may short circuit.
g) Avoid Repairing the Heater Units
The Kotatsu charcoal or coal heaters may not be complicated to repair. Most people may attend to them as DIY home projects. But it’s not the case for the heaters using electricity, solar, or other energy sources. If you are to repair a Kotatsu heater, ensure you’re a professional. Otherwise, seek the services of an expert to fix them. You may set them wrongly and cause a blast!
Your Kotatsu heater could get spoilt and cannot access any to replace it. You could also make yourself a Kotatsu but cannot get the right heater to use. In such a scenario, you could use an alternative. And what are the other options? Let’s check it out.
h) What’s a Kotatsu Heater Alternative?
The traditional Kotatsu heater used charcoal, coal, or paraffin. The modern Kotatsu heaters use electricity or solar. The olden heat sources may not please you. But you need not fret; various companies making Kotatsu heaters have come up. If you can’t find one from a particular company, you can pick another model.
If you have a small Kotatsu and can’t find any heater to use, utilize a small-sized bathroom heater. Otherwise, the market has numerous Kotatsu heaters to choose from.
As described above, a Kotatsu is an essential piece of furniture in our homes. Though they are prominent in Japan because they are part of their culture, Westerners embrace them. They not only come with an aesthetic appeal but also serve many purposes, as described above.
But because of their heating element, they can pose a danger to the users and their surroundings if not properly cared for. But if you take the safety precautions described above, you have nothing to fear. Keep yourself warm during the cold season with the Kotatsu.