When we returned from winter vacation, many of my coworkers asked me where I went. They seemed to be expecting exotic adventures, or a trip back home over Christmas. I seemed to have surprised everyone with my response.
“Alice-sensei, where did you go over the holiday?”
“Nowhere. We bought a kotatsu!”
“Ehhh? You are so Japanese!”
(On a related note, it really amuses me when people say ‘You are so Japanese’. Not ‘your Japanese is so good,’ or ‘you understand Japan,’ but ‘You are so Japanese.’ It used to bother me at first, it didn’t sit right with complicated notions of identity and other overinflated silliness, but now it’s my favorite compliment. Does anyone else get told they are so Japanese? I’m sure it must be common, but it does make me feel a little special every time.)
So, this winter holiday we bought a kotatsu, and it has been amazing. A kotatsu is a low table that looks like a coffee table, but is so much more. There is a heater built into the top, and the top lifts off so that you can easily put a large blanket or futon (though it’s much closer to a comforter than a futon you would find in America or Europe.) You then sit on the ground, put the blanket over your lap, and are enveloped in the cozy warmth of Japanese happiness.
When writing their “What I did over Winter Vacation” essays, countless of my students included hiding under the kotatsu (runners up included “Ate cake” and “Did homework” and many combined all three!) It is a solid part of the Japanese image of “winter.” Nothing says “winter” to a Japanese person like snuggling under the kotatsu and spending time with loved ones, whiling away the hours eating, drinking, reading, watching tv, and enjoying one another’s company.
We picked our table up from an “Eco” store (read: second hand) and our futon set from a mid-season sale. The chairs were hand-me downs, and sadly we don’t have a kitty hiding under the blanket (another part of the Japanese image of a kotatsu), but we’re otherwise set. We’ve since spent many happy hours, cozy and warm.
The Japanese don’t go in much for insulation, and our apartment is usually cold enough that you can see your breath, but I haven’t felt cold since we got our kotatsu. Except when we have to get out of it!