I Have Kotatsu Envy

by Katy on January 10, 2009 · 25 comments


Kotatsu Table

I love warmth.

As a child, I could be found lying at the bottom of the stairs cuddled against the heat register. I spent countless blissful hours capturing the heat from this one warm spot in an otherwise drafty house. So many hours were spent there, that I was able to learn how to pluck the metal grate to the tune of Yankee Doodle.

Which I can still do.

As an adult, I have the unpleasant adult task of paying the utility bills, which pretty much removes the child-like joy of endless furnace usage. And even though I keep the temperature quite low, (57 degrees at night, 60-65 during the day) I’m usually aware that I’m a little bit cold.

I was browsing through the noimpactman blog the other day when I came across a guest post by Sean Sakamoto about how the Japanese don’t use central heating. Instead, they dress warmly, take long hot baths and have something called a kotatsu, which the author descibes as:

The kotatsu is a low table with a small electric heater underneath. There’s at least one in every home. . . The top of the table lifts off, and a quilt goes over the legs. Then you put the top back on. Everyone sits around the table with the quilt over their laps, and the heat keeps your lower body warm. It’s cozy, like sitting by the fire.

It has a blanket?! (I have a thing about blankets — the cozier the better!) 

We know a lot of Japanese people, and my husband and older son even traveled to Japan last year, so I know about these tables. But I’d never really given much thought to them. Now, it’s all I can think about.

I waaaaaant one, I neeeeeeed one!

I very much like the idea of simply heating the area of a house that is currently occupied. We own a small space heater, and my husband uses it to heat our bedroom when he’s sitting still and studying, which tends to be a somewhat cold activity. (Ironically, it was left with us after a host-son went back to his native Japan.) This small space heater really does an incredible job of heating the whole bedroom, which is quite large.

Maybe it’s actually good that I not acquire a kotatsu for myself, as there would be distinct possibility that I would flat-out refuse to ever leave its cozy warmth. (Especially if there were tunes to be plucked from it.) Plus, it would probably be hard to score a used one here in Oregon.

Have you used a kotatsu, or have a great heating trick? Please share your stories in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica Wolk-Stanley January 10, 2009 at 10:45 pm

When I was a starving artist in Brooklyn in the 90s and too proud/embarrassed to ask for help from my family, I would do some dishes if I felt chilly. And before I went to bed I’d take a hot shower. And dress in layers. I also think that you get used to a lower heat. At friends apartments and at work I was always boiling hot a from keeping the heat at 55 or something in my own home.


Divine Bird Jenny January 10, 2009 at 11:02 pm

My husband and I spent a winter without heat in our 2nd floor house apartment in Connecticut several years ago. I made a bunch of polar fleece blankets out of fabric in my stash, knitted fingerless mitts to keep our hands warm when we used the computer, and we’d use Jessica’s trick of taking hot showers before bed. We spent lots of our time either curled up on the couch or under the massive pile of blankets on our bed. It was an adventure! (I wouldn’t want to repeat it, naturally, but we made the best of a bad situation.)

Now that I’m a pretty hardcore knitter, we each have several pairs of gloves and mittens, warm fuzzy socks, and I have a collection of cowls for wearing indoors and out. Those polar fleece quilts are holding up well, too!

I think a kotetsu would be fabulous, though. Maybe we’ll look into something like that when we get a house one day and we have more control over the heat. Our apartment never goes below 60 in the winter since it’s controlled by the building owners.


Beth January 10, 2009 at 11:06 pm

Yes, we/I have used kotatsu’s or similar set ups. The Swedish and folks in Norway do something similar when we were there.

But they like the Japanese also have much much smaller homes than Americans. Smaller refrigerators, closets (less clothes), double duty furniture, and one tv, not one in every room. Same with computers.

And drying closets, since air rises and thus clothes can dry using the hot air, where the clotheslines is on a pully and is pulled up.

Also read the noimpactman piece. Love your blog!


Marianne January 11, 2009 at 6:31 am

my brother and i recall always being cold in the winter because my mother would keep the heat low. she would sew me flannel nightgowns with an extra 6 inches of fabric at the bottom so i could tuck my legs up to keep warm. now that i have to pay my own home heating bills, my husband and i also keep the house around 62. but it doesnt seem as cold. we keep blankets piled up neatly on the back of the couch and…..we cuddle! most people spend their time in their own chairs away from their family members. so pile on the couch together under a blanket and reconnect with your family. add a dog-or 3! as they say…a 3 dog night.


mindfulmama January 11, 2009 at 6:46 am

Move around. Hot showers. Dress in layers. Drink hot tea. Doing the dishes like Jessica does definitely works here on the North East coast. The winters here can be brutal (but not like the midwest), and the wind whistling through old windows can pierce you to the bone. Being out here for the last 17 years has meant my Californian body has had to adjust to bone-chilling cold every year. And every year I ask, “Why am I here??” One other thing that warms me up is planning my spring garden.


tammy January 11, 2009 at 8:24 am

This fall my neighbor gave me three corn bags. They’re flannel bags, twelve inches square, filled with corn. You heat them in the microwave for five minutes and they provide heat for hours. I heat one and lay it in my lap when I’m working at the computer. At night, I heat all three and toss them in the bed a few minutes before I go to sleep. Three corn bags and a dog make a cozy bed! Love your blog Katy and have passed it along to many others!


Kassie January 11, 2009 at 9:16 am

Long Johns, or long underwear or thermals…whatever name you give them, they are lifesavers during Utah winters… i NEVER go a day without one entire under-layer. Also fleecy sleeping bags (homemade) in all the kids beds, wool socks and a robe that i wear FAR too much on cold days!!


CanadianKate January 11, 2009 at 12:14 pm

Like the others we have blankets everywhere to wrap ourselves in, space heater in the basement office (the coldest room in the house), bean bags to heat up for spot warmth (I find my neck gets sore from being tense when I’m cold so I put one there), and extra layers of clothing.

I also have a massage chair with heat, that I use on heat only from time to time and a waterbed (which means I never climb into a cold bed.)

Our office is at the foot of a stairwell, so we’ve hung a heavy curtain across the bottom of the stairs so the draft doesn’t get into the room. Some sunny days I’ll come down the stairs and through the curtain and notice the temp difference between the stairwell and the office. The solar gain from the sunny window can feel like my dh has been running the heater when he hasn’t.

Don’t forget to close window coverings once there is no solar gain from a window. That reduces another source of drafts.


Magdalena January 11, 2009 at 5:50 pm

I grew up in a very cold house in Northern Maine. I used to put my clothes into the bed so that I could get dressed in the morning without getting thoroughly chilled.

My husband and I used to supplement the comforters on the bed with our wool clergy capes – big swaths of wool and quilted lining meant to keep priests warm and dry at outdoor ceremonies (especially winter interments – think wind, rain, sleet, snow). These are sometimes called boat cloaks, because the Naval officers wear them. Mine is handmade and long – I used it in seminary for getting around a foggy, cold campus. Improvised blankets!


Kristen@The Frugal Girl January 11, 2009 at 7:08 pm

Slippers. I love my slippers! That, and lots of layers.


Jeanine January 12, 2009 at 7:52 am

If it were up to me, I’d set the thermostat on 80.

I can’t stand to be cold.

Alas, even though I pay the bill, I don’t contribute to making of the money to pay said bill.

So. What my hubby does is put a large pot of water on the stove and heat it to boiling. The steam creates humidity, and therefore, warmth.

Tea bags are then dunked into the water and is the beginings of tea for the day. Some of it I drink hot, while the other is left to come to room temp for iced tea later on. If I’m really on top of my game, I’ll actually remember to put in the honey or sugar, so it’s not so hard to dissolve later on….


LeAnna January 12, 2009 at 8:49 am

I keep the house 61. I always wear socks, although I hate them. I take a hot shower before bed about half of the time (no shower in the morning, usually.) I drink warm beverages, especially hot cider with a little bit of rum….keeping warm, pirate style. 😉 I also have blankets everywhere to wrap up in. That corn bag thing is smart. I’ve heard of one with like barley, too. Hmm…definitely something to consider for on top of my feet! I hate being cold…


GLM January 12, 2009 at 1:31 pm

Oh goodness, I am my Mother’s daughter. I took one look at that and thought “fire hazard!” I’ll go with the English and opt for a hot water bottle.

My Grandmother had a lovely space heater in her bathroom, which helped out a lot. Living through both world wars, that woman didn’t waste much!

Unfortunately, she also didn’t throw out much, either. I think that’s a hazard we run into when we try to hold onto things we “might” use again.


sophia January 12, 2009 at 3:05 pm

I lived in Japan for a year, in an area that gets snow 6 months out of the year, and I would brave walking in the feet upon feet of snow for 4 blocks to get to the public bath- nothing, and I mean nothing, can compare to how this hits every single luxury pleasure spot on the human scale. All the neighborhood women were there so it was social, the entire area (including the dressing room) was filled with steam, and the bathing pool was so hot it was almost scalding. Add into this mineral baths, wooden pools instead of ceramic/concrete, massage chairs, the white noise sound of water, and it was heaven on earth. After an hour spent there I felt cleaner than I have before or since, and even after walking back 4 blocks home I would be warm the rest of my evening. There is also a special kind of futon blanket that you get, it’s like ultra fleece, and I swear even in bra and panties I would sometimes sweat under that thing. I didn’t have a kotatsu but I would use the steam from the showers I (rarely) took at home or I’d turn on the gas burners extra high while I was cutting veggies for dinner. Ah, you’ve made me miss Japan!


Jo January 16, 2009 at 10:25 am

This morning it was -10 at 7 am; now it’s about 0. We keep the house at 62 during the day.

Right now I’m taking a blog break at my basement office desk before lunch. On a frayed oriental carpet (trash-picked) under my fleece-socked and clog-wearing feet is a tiny electric space heater purchsed in 1989. Got on my silk long johns (hand me up from mom), jeans, wool afghan from grandmother-in-law, turtleneck, huge wool sweater (hand me up from husband), and fingerless gloves. Just finished a thermal mug of tea.

Now if I could just find a nose-warmer!


thenonconsumeradvocate January 16, 2009 at 10:32 am


Careful what you ask for. My sister used to crochet nose-warmers in high school.

And she reads this blog!

I’ve been wearing a fleece hat in the house lately, and it has completely taken away the discomfort of keep the house at 60-62 degrees. However, I look like I’m ready to go hiking at a moment’s notice. Which isn’t really the look I’m trying to cultivate these days.

-Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Toni Prutch January 15, 2016 at 4:46 am

I’ve found if I wear a scarf and keep my neck warm that helps too.


James Bruce January 26, 2009 at 1:31 am

Kotatsu envy huh? Meh~ I have two in my living room! One them we picked up for free when one of the neighbours left it outside with a note saying “please use”.

They are admittedly the focal point of pretty much every night in my shared house here in Kyoto, as we sit around/under them all toasty, have dinner and watch a movie. I just wish I had one we could use with real chairs rather than on the floor. Five years in Japan and I still can’t sit on the floor …

Anyway, just wanted to say you’ve inspired me to start a non-consumer / money saving tips site for fellow foreigners living in Japan, but perhaps the tips could apply to anyone. It’s still early days yet, but the address is http://frugalistajapan.gaijinstuff.com/

Thanks Katy!


joy steinberg October 12, 2010 at 8:55 am

I have just decided to build one and realize I have everything I need but the heating element.

I have a large square coffee table. I have a huge, heavy piece of glass that is almost the same size, and I have a king sized quilt. I just ordered the
Indus-Tool CL Cozy Legs Flat-Panel 150-Watt Radiant Heater from Amazon and will mount that to the bottom of the table with industrial strength velcro. This is my 2010 fall project. It gets cold in NH.
I also have a Japanese winter Hanten which is a quilted jacket. That and the kotatsu and New England winters be damned.


Jenny January 14, 2016 at 6:16 pm

That looks amazing! I’m almost always the cold one at my house. If it’s just me who is cold, I heat up my flax seed heat pack and cuddle with it under a blanket or two until I feel better. We’ve been leaving our heat around 61-62 at night… any colder and my husband has a hard time getting out of bed in the morning for work!


Surviving and Thriving on Life January 14, 2016 at 7:18 pm

We keep our house at 60 during the day if we use it at all. At night we turn off the heat all together because were all snuggled into our beds anyways.
We usually have a fire going in the fireplace. When we go to bed we shut out fireplace mesh and open the bedroom doors to let the heat in. They are kept shut all day to keep the heat in the living areas.
Blankets for each person folded in a pile and long feather pillows to lay on.
I keep lots of tea on hand to heat our core.
Flannel sheets (purchased after the holidays on sale) for each bed and cotton high quality (bought used of course) sheets for during the summer to keep cool. We all have slippers and Smartwool socks.
Blanket in front of each door that goes outside. Keeps drafts out.
Rice bags/heating pads are are must!


Amy Hall January 14, 2016 at 9:46 pm

Thanks a lot Katy, now I want one too! I actually use a space heater in our home office right next to me every day. By the way, my son is in the JMP too (6th grade). (-;


Katy January 14, 2016 at 11:34 pm

Lucky you, the middle school portion is wonderful!



Monique January 15, 2016 at 4:45 am

We have a wood stove and now that we are considering looking for a new place, I won’t even consider a house unless I have some source of heat and light to sit beside. I homeschooled my two sons and I can safely say that if they weren’t outside building snowmen in the winter, they were seated on cushions next to the wood stove, book in hand. It really is the heart of our home. 🙂


Cody December 18, 2017 at 8:41 pm

I recently built my own Kotatsu (I documented the process too, if it helps anyone else looking to do the same: https://japanesefutonzen.com/diy-kotatsu/). Can’t say that I made it with the sole purpose of saving on the utility bill, but it’s a nice (albeit small) bonus. My apartment is a two bedroom and my roommate recently moved out. It was actually cheaper rent-wise to stay where I’m at with two bedrooms than to move into a one bedroom. The Midwest is weird like that: we’ve got plenty of space, so location is the real premium, and living size is less relevant. I closed off his room and shut the vents so I’m not heating it anymore and spend the majority of my time in the living room under the kotatsu.

I love it. Whenever I have company over, they love it. I hope as tiny homes / affordable living gain more popularity that kotatsus become more popular, because they’re like furniture Swiss Army knives 😛


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