Living in Japan has its benefits and of course its drawbacks. For me one of the drawbacks is the cold winter living in a house with very little insulation. I’ve yet to discover exactly why buildings go un-insulated, despite the bitter cold in winter, especially in the north of the country where I live. Maybe it’s related to the way building practices have developed over the years, with the traditional use of wood and paper. Or it may simply be a way for developers to save money, after all my apartment wasn’t built for the owners to live in, it was built for the owners to rent to people, namely…me.
Whatever the reasoning behind this lack of insulation, there is a whole industry built around keeping warm in winter here in Japan. From powerful kerosene fuelled heaters to electric blankets and “Heat-tec” thermal underwear from UniQlo. For me however, on the top of this list, is one of the greatest inventions to come out of Japan. Forget the Walkman, instant noodles, Karaoke and Mario. Even the all-singing, all-dancing robot toilets don’t compare to the almighty Kotatsu.
Basically it’s a small table with a heater underneath and a blanket draped over the top to trap the heat. And yet it’s so much more than that. In winter it’s the focal point of the household. As the family gather around, sitting under the blanket warming themselves, they face each other around the table. The TV becomes obsolete as people start to talk with each other and enjoy each others company. Meals like nabe (hotpot) are eaten at the table. Children and adults alike enjoy long naps in a semi-hibernating state.
My wife, who is Japanese, put off buying a Kotatsu for a long time. She warned that it would make me lazy, that I wouldn’t want to move from it’s warm embrace. But eventually she relented and we went out and bought one. Of course she was right. I can happily sit on a cushion, with my legs warm and my ears freezing for hours at a time. But at least it stops me complaining about lack of insulation.