There are various kinds of heating systems, such as air conditioner, electric carpet, floor heating, fan heater, etc., but Kotatsu has been one of the most familiar heating appliances in Japan.
There are two types of kotatsu, namely, "Horigotatsu" and "Okigotatsu".
The history of Kotatsu goes back to Muromachi era (14th centyry). The original form of Horigotatsu was to set a wooden framework on the irori, which was a traditional Japanese fireplace placed in the middle of old Japanese houses, and put a quilted cover on the half-fired charcoal, which is called "oki."
In Edo era (early in the 17th century), the formation of the Horigotatsu was changed a little bit. The floor around an irori was dug down in a square shape and the wooden framework was placed on all sides to make hearth.
Hot charcoals were placed in the bottom of the hearth and a quilted cover was placed on it. Later, when tatami mat became popular among common houses, by putting hot charcoals in an earthen pot, a movable kotatsu called "Okigotatsu" came out.
The appearance of Okigotatsu, which could warm family members individually, must have been an epoch-making event since there were no heating fixtures that could heat up entire house at that time. However, samurai did not even think about using kotatsu since it was improper to manful samurai spirits. Therefore, it was absolutely unthinkable for their wives to use kotatsu to keep warm.
In the middle of 20th century, the source of heat had been changed from charcoal to electricity. Thus it had become available to fix heater directly to the framework and therefore Okigotatsu had become mainstream. Afterwards, it has become one of the symbolic Japanese winter scenes that the families sit round a Kotatsu together while watching TV, eating mikan (Japanese mandarin) and chatting. This hearty scene could be a symbol of happiness in those days.
Today, Horigotatsu and Okigotatsu are intermixed in our lifestyle since each type has advantage respectively. Horigotatsu provides us with comfortable posture as if we sit on a chair whereas Okigotatsu is portable. As the structure of house has changed and heating appliances has improved, city people does not need kotatsu any more. However it makes us nostalgic and feels relieved when we find kotatsu at a hotel during a trip.
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