The beehive oven, the epitome of coziness in Hungarian traditions, is the cultural equivalent of the Japanese kotatsu (炬燵). The kotatsu, like the beehive oven, is the center of the traditional home and the venue for family life in the evening. Irrespective of culture, families gather at the family fireside.
The kotatsu is a low table, covered by a warm blanket in winter. The tabletop is set on top of the blanket. There is a space heater under the table and the blanket captures the heat like a miniature tent. During my years in Japan we had a kotatsu in the living room and every evening we’d settle in under it as a family, to talk or watch television. We’d cover up waist-high and it was delightfully warm.
There is no central heating in Japan. We lived in a single family home in a rural area where the rooms were heated by air conditioners or electric radiators. The only heater in the living room was the kotatsu, though. The kotatsu was also the socially accepted place for taking short naps. I took quite a few of them in the late afternoon or early evening while trying to acclimatize to a different time zone. However, it would be dangerous to spend a whole night there. When rolling over while sleeping it is much too easy to roll into the space heater, which can cause serious burns. I heard plenty of stories testifying to this while in Japan.
In winter everyone in the family tends to seek out the warmest spot in the home. We actually spent more time together on winter evenings than at other times.
In summer the blanket was of course relegated to the rear of the closet, but the table remained the central point in our home. This was where friends and guests settled down, winter and summer alike.
This type of low table – where politeness dictates that you sit at a corner – is found all over Japan, including in restaurants, night clubs and even on some trains.
Apartments are small and there are cultural reasons for young people not going to one another’s homes the way we do. It is much more common for them to rent a room together, where they can talk, try their hand at karaoke, and drink alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages. There is a hole in the floor under the table where people can dangle their legs, to keep them from getting numb. In many homes there are chair backs set up around the kotatsu, so sitters can even rest their backs.
The pictures are illustrations and come from the following websites:
http://mek.niif.hu; https://www.pinterest.com; http://www.ebay.com;