Difference between Kotatsu and Chabudai?

In this guide, you shall learn everything you need to know about these tables. The two types of tables don’t have much difference.

A Kotatsu is a low, wooden table frame covered by a futon, or heavy blanket, upon which a table top sits. Underneath is a heat source, often built into the table itself. It typically acts as a heater, and families gather around it during cold winter days.

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The Chabudai is used during the warm season, while the Kotatsu is only functional during the cold weather. Often used for varying activities, including meals, studies, and tea ceremonies, it can be folded and stored, saving space when not in use.

Let’s evaluate each table for a better understanding.

Design and Functionality

When delving into traditional Japanese furnishings, Kotatsu and Chabudai stand out. Though seemingly similar, their unique features set them apart.

Kotatsu: Blanket table with a heater

This low, wooden table frame includes an underneath heat source. Often covered by a blanket or futon, it comforts those seated around, keeping them cozy during the cold months.

Chabudai: Folding legs and versatile use

On the other hand, this is a versatile short-legged table, traditional to Japanese homes. These tables can easily be folded away when not used, facilitating multi-purpose use of space, a valued commodity in many Japanese households. These two distinct pieces truly capture the thoughtfulness of Japanese design.

Usage and Purpose

Kotatsu: Winter comfort and warmth

The unique feature of the kotatsu table is its built-in heating element, making it perfect for those cold Japanese winters. It’s used primarily for maintaining warmth while enjoying family gatherings, reading, or even dozing off.

If you are wondering where to get one, you can check out our published article on where to buy a Kotatsu table.

Chabudai: Study, work, and dining table

On the other hand, the versatility of this table is appreciated in Japanese households. As a low, traditional table, one can study, work, eat meals, or even hold tea ceremonies around it. Infusing the spaces it inhabits with a sense of old-world charm reminds one of the valued traditions in the hustle-bustle of modern life.

While serving different functions, these tables carry a rich sense of Japanese tradition and hospitality.

The Chabudai

It is a short-legged table popular in Japan. It has a height that can range from 15cm to 30cm. The Japanese designed them so they can collapse for easy storage.

Creating space after using these low tables is easy. You only need to fold and keep them away.

Early iterations date back over a thousand years when the nobility used them solely. As Japan’s society progressed towards the modern era, the chabudai became increasingly popular among commoners, solidifying itself as a staple of any Japanese household.

It wasn’t until the late 19th century that Western dining tables made their way to Japan and slowly began replacing the chabudai in some urban homes due to the influx of foreign influence.

The Japanese use floor chairs or tatami mats because you cannot use a standard chair for sitting around. This table comes with multiple purposes. You can use them to;

  • Din
  • Study
  • Have tea and other drinks
  • Work on simple tasks and projects

You can do anything on this type of table that you would on a typical table. No wonder specific theories say that the word ‘Chebudai’ was derived from ‘Cha,’ meaning tea.

Others argue that the name is a Chinese word that means ‘to sit at a table.’ These various explanations indicate the versatility of these short tables.

Though the Chebudais got used centuries ago, it was not until the late 1800s that they spread throughout Japan. The tables usually come in a circular design, which is symbolic.

With these tables, there is no hierarchy. A family sits around the Chebudai and enjoys a meal, drink, or pass the time catching with no barrier.

Because these tables are small, people find themselves near each other while around the table.

As a result, they bond quickly and stronger.

Features of a Chabudai

You can easily differentiate such a table from others with the following features.

i. Height

It is the main feature that distinguishes a Chabudai. In ancient times, the Japanese used approximately 15cm in height. Today, you can find ones with a height of up to 30cm.

ii. Shape

As explained above, this type of table comes in circular shapes, for they have a meaning. The tables were designed to bring families together.

However, due to the outside’s influence, some people build such tables with a square, oblong, or ellipsis shape.

If buying or building one, you must consider the design you want. But an authentic Japanese Chabudais has a circular shape.

iii. Size

Like other tables, this one comes in various sizes. It depends on your family’s size or the table’s purpose. The space available for the table also determines its size.

If you have a big family or a large room, a large Chabudais will work out great.

But the Japanese don’t own large tables because they have enough space; they consider the purpose. If the big ones have no purpose despite the available space, the Japanese don’t keep them.

The Japanese culture is based on minimalism.

A thing will only find its way into a Japanese room if it has a purpose. That’s why you may find a large room in a Japanese house but with a small size.

iv. Materials

The ancient Japanese used carefully selected wood to build a Chabudai. They would inspect the pieces of wood and eliminate any imperfections.

Afterward, the wood would be used to make a round-shaped table of a specific size.

The handcrafted Chabudais could be made with oak, pine, and stain. Other readily available materials are currently being used, as some of these wood sources are getting wiped out and hard to access.

As a result, they become endangered species, and most governments commit themselves to protecting them.

v. Finish

it comes with various finishes. Some get finished with lacquer, making them attractive and easy to maintain. For multiple colors, some craftsmen become creative.

They sandwich different layers of lacquer. The results are excellent. Anyone would love such a piece of furniture in his or her room.

Other Chabudai tables don’t come with any finish. They expose the surface of the wood used in its making.

Such a table comes with the natural color of the wood grain. Though the table may look rough, the wood’s natural stains and smell give a refreshing and natural feeling. The cedar smell is impressive.

Some artisans oil the wood’s surface to improve the table’s appearance and longevity. If you are looking for a Chabudai, you will have various finish options to decide. Go for what you prefer and fits your budget.

vi. Mobility

Traditional ones were less bulky and came in a manageable size. The ancient Japanese advocated for simplicity and functionality.

Such a table was easy to move around as it was light and foldable. However, due to Western culture’s influence, some Chabudais come made with bulky materials and in large sizes. Moving such tables may be tricky.

You can find examples of Chabudais on Pinterest.

About Kotatsu

Difference between Kotatsu and Chabudai? 1

Unlike the Chebudai, it comes with a heat source located underneath. It stands approximately 14 – inches from the ground. The top is usually covered by a heavy Japanese blanket known as a futon.

People can use the table for dining or other tasks. A wooden plane gets placed on top of the futon.

When the heat is on, the futon helps trap the heat, keeping the legs of the people sitting around warm. In the olden times, the only heat sources available were lamps or fire pits, also known as irori.

You may worry about the safety of such a setting, and you are right.

Kotatsu tables have been known to start fires and burn down houses. Modern ones use electric heaters or other alternatives that are well protected using metal prongs to prevent such dangers.

But the warming idea was brilliant. It made the Japanese survive through the winter or cold season.

Because of the tables’ purpose, it is interesting to know how they are made. Here is the insight;

kotatsu table
Elements of a Kotatsu table

History of Kotatsu

Early forms emerged around the 14th century when a charcoal brazier was placed beneath the wooden platform where nobles sat. By the 16th century, Japanese homes began adopting suspended flooring, allowing more space between the floor and the energy source, subsequently decreasing fire risk.

Finally, with the introduction of electricity in Japan, electric heating systems replaced coal braziers in kotatsu designs in the 20th century.

Anatomy of a Kotatsu

A contemporary version consists of four primary components:

  1. The frame: It is usually made from wood and supports the heater and tabletop.
  2. Heater: An electric heating unit installed beneath the tabletop provides warmth to those sitting around, along with their legs and feet.
  3. Tabletop: A removable surface on the frame, typically square or rectangular.
  4. Futon or blanket: Draped over the frame and tucked under the tabletop, it traps heat for a cozier experience.

These components work harmoniously to provide much-needed warmth during Japan’s chilly winter months.

The Price of a Kotatsu

An authentic Kotatsu from Japan ranges from approximately $600. But the market has price tags down to $120. It could be because of the size, the luxury elements, and the materials used.

Some are small such that they host only one or two people!

What to Consider Before Buying a Kotatsu

i. Weather

Kotatsus are great to use during the cold season. You wouldn’t want to add more heat to your room during a hot day. You could end up fainting or feeling uncomfortable.

ii. Futon

Consider the blanket covering used on the Kotatsu. Some come heavy, while others are light. Others contain a material that can easily catch fire or allow heat to escape.

You may also need to factor in what you like. Some futons’ color and design may not please your eyes.

iii. Heat Fixture

Check out the kind of heat fixture used. Is it protected to avoid burning people or causing a fire? Is the heat source open or closed? What kind of heat source is installed?

Open and raw heat sources are dangerous. Most people prefer the electric heat source. It is safer than the traditional sources of heat.

iv. Table Cover

Check whether the tabletop placed on the futon is sturdy. Can it handle the things you want to do on the table? Is it pleasing to the eyes? Does it blend well with the interior décor?

What to Consider Before Buying a Chebudai

I. The Number of People to Use It

It does not make sense to buy a small table while many people use it. Consider your family members. Buy one that accommodates everyone.

II. Round Shaped

Round-shaped Chebudais are flexible. You can easily squeeze in some people.

If you use your Chebudai around various people at intervals, like in an office, a round-shaped Chebudai will work out great. It is also great for dining or family use.

III. The Rectangular or oblong-shaped

Rectangular-shaped tables are typical around the world. The Japanese have also embraced this shape in their Chebudais. A rectangular or oblong-shaped Chebudai fits in a room efficiently.

IV. Square Shaped

A squared Chebudai signifies hierarchy. It is ideal for conducting open dialogue. But the table cannot accommodate many people.

Squared tables lack flexibility and are used to host a specific number of people. Such a table is ideal for an office or private space.

V. Folding Feature

One of the Chebudais’ main aspects is to preserve space. Consider buying a Chebudai with a folding feature if you require more space.

It would be easy to remove and store the table after use. Such a table will allow you to use your room for various reasons despite the space available.

If you are interested in buying Kotatsu and Chebudai, you can find stores in the United States that sell Japanese furniture.

Maintaining a Kotatsu and Chabudai

Whether you go for a Chebudai or Kotatsu, you must maintain them.

As a result, they will give you service for many years. Because both table types are near the ground, catching dust, stains, water, and other unwanted stuff is easy.

You should, therefore, dust them regularly and deep clean them periodically. Clean the wood used in their making using the correct method.

Otherwise, you may spoil the wood and interfere with the finishing.

Always use a soft, damp cloth. A wet one will saturate the wood material. Dip the cloth in soapy water and wring it until all the water is out. Then wipe clean the table and leave it to dry.

Remove stubborn water stains with a mixture of baking soda and toothpaste. Stains from hot drinks can be removed by applying toothpaste to the affected area.

Then, use a soft cloth to rub the area until the stain disappears. Wipe the area with a damp cloth until spotlessly clean.

With time, your Chebudai table may accumulate polish. In such a case, boil some tea bags and allow the tea water to cool. Then dip a soft cloth into it and wring out the water.

Use a damp cloth to wipe the surface of the table. Your Chebudai will shine and look great again. Thanks to the tannic acid found in strong tea. It helps revitalize the wood used in making the table.