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The kotatsu–a low table with a heating element built into its underside and a quilt to keep the warmth in–is considered something of a national treasure here in Japan. With earthquakes in mind, Japanese homes are usually built from light materials and lack the kind of central heating that most Westerners are accustomed to, so it’s no surprise to find people either sitting at or dozing under one of these little tables until spring comes around.

During the working week, however, people are forced to abandon their tiny heat caves and spend hours at desks inside poorly-insulated municipal buildings, decades-old schools and single-glazed offices. Many employees plaster themselves with kairo heat pads or cover their laps with thick blankets in an effort to keep the feeling in their toes, but few would ever claim to be comfortable at work even having taken these measures.

But no more! Japanese gadget kings Sanwa Direct have come up with a tiny, portable kotatsu-like heating panel that attaches to the underside of any desk, promising toasty-warm laps all day long!

Kotatsu are thought to have originated in the 14th century when charcoal-burning cooking hearths were fitted with wooden surrounds and makeshift tables so that residents could dine and socialise around their warmth. These tables gradually evolved to become the vital, and altogether quite wonderful, pieces of furniture that most Japanese homes have in some form or other today. Kotatsu are great for enjoying family meals, installing yourself under with a good book, or just hanging out with friends while drinking or playing video games.

▼ A typical kotatsu setup.

kotatsu proper

Photo: Sushi kitchen

▼ Cats, of course, are also big fans of these tables!

kotatsuneko

Photo: Ryuunosuke

And now, Sanwa Direct is here to help the millions of shivering office workers by offering a kotatsu-like experience in the form its “Pal Thermo” heat pad.

The small, mains-operated panel attaches to the underside of any metallic desk (the like of which pretty much every city hall, school and office across the country is fitted with as standard) via a couple of strong magnets, and provides a warm glow all day long for about 1 yen (US$0.01) per hour.

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The panel runs on just 50 Watts of energy, and is guaranteed to remain warm without ever becoming so hot that it could become a fire hazard or result in accidental burns. Working in one of the few offices that don’t have those awful steel desks? No problem-Sanwa Direct also sells specially-designed metal strips that can be adhered to your desk’s underside before connecting the Pal Thermo.

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But surely having a kotatsu – the thing that even a palace guard would struggle not to doze off under – at work isn’t the best idea when you have a mountain of paperwork to get through? Thankfully, the company assures us that “although it’s pleasantly warm, [it’s] not as hot as a regular kotatsu, so you won’t feel sleepy and struggle to focus on your work.”

The unit first went on sale late last year and was an instant hit, so Sanwa Direct is expecting to sell a great many units this year. And with a price tag of just 7,980 yen (US$81), we can’t imagine they’ll struggle to find customers, so if you’re already feeling the chill you might want to head over to their website and pick one up soon!

Now that we come to think of it, our laps are starting to feel a little bit chilly…

Source: Sanwa Direct via Gizmodo Japan