Part of me expected to be regularly awed by Japan’s wild inventions like pancake-making robots, and bizarre vending machines that sell everything imaginable. Instead, I’ve found that it’s the little things about Japan that impress me the most; the simple innovations that make everyday life significantly more efficient, as well as the frivolous products that are so completely awesome I can’t figure out why they haven’t caught on in the West.
When I ask Japanese people how they stay warm in the winter, the answer is always the same: kotatsu. A kotatsu is a low table with an electric heater attached to its underside. In the winter, you turn on the heater, and drape a big blanket under the removable tabletop. You can then tuck your legs into the warm space under the table and work on the computer, watch TV, or do anything else you would normally do while sitting at a table. It surprised me to find that warming only my legs and feet actually makes my whole body feel warmer. The temperature has been steadily dropping over the last few weeks, and half my body is disappearing under the kotatsu on a nightly basis.