Kotatsu (heated table) – The Centre of Domestic Life in Japan

The kotatsu is a low wooden table with a heat source attached underneath. It is covered by a futon or heavy blanket with a table that sits on top. In winter, Japanese families gather around the kotatsu, sitting with their legs and feet underneath the blanket, to keep warm. It is often the heart of the home.

I think the kotatsu is a wonderful idea and I’m surprised it’s not more popular overseas. When I lived in Tokyo, I used to rush home from work, switch on the kotatsu as soon as I walked in the door and then read a book or watch TV for hours under the futon. I remember how relaxing it was to feel the warmth of the heater on my legs and toes and how the kotatsu was always so snug and comforting. I also remember the many happy hours I’d spend on a winter’s day, sitting under the warmth of the kotatsu heater with my friends around me, drinking tea and sharing snacks. I’d always think how nice it was to feel so cosy and comfortable. The kotatsu would always help to melt away the pressures of my working day and it would always bring friends closer together.

When I was browsing the Rakuten Global Market, I came across this stylish ‘Oxford Kotatsu’ (pictured below) which can be shipped to the United Kingdom. My husband doesn’t like the idea because he prefers to sit on the sofa, but if you live in a small apartment in London or Tokyo then this might be perfect for you.  It costs £171.62 or ¥24,799 and although it’s quite expensive it does look like it is very good quality. If you do invest in this, I guarantee you’ll enjoy a very snug, happy and warm winter!

Kotatsu image

My Favourite Japanese Dish: Chawanmushi

When I was seventeen years old I stayed with a Japanese family for a few weeks in their home just outside of Tokyo, near Kamakura. My Okaasan (Japanese host mother) made me chawanmushi and I immediately fell in love with this dish.

In 2004, I revisited Tokyo for a few days on my way to the UK and I went to see my Okaasan at her home. To my surprise, Okaasan had prepared chawanmushi just for me, as a token of her warmth and kind hospitality.

I’ve tried to make chawanmushi in my own home and I have to admit it is a difficult dish to get right. Sometimes it turns out fine and other times it just doesn’t set the way it should.

Chawanmushi literally means “steamed in a tea cup” in English and it is often served as an appetiser. It is a type of savoury egg custard mixed with soy sauce, dashi and mirin and the seeds of the gingko. It is further complemented by ingredients such as shrimp, shiitake mushrooms, fish cakes etc.

A lot of traditional Japanese restaurants outside of Japan serve chawanmushi as an appetiser. I highly recommend you try this dish and I hope you like it just as much as I do.

Chawanmushi

Antonia’s Gorgeous Gift

I was so surprised and pleased to receive this lovely “fan art” from my friend Antonia yesterday. The beautiful image below truly captures the spirit of one of the main characters called ‘Haruka’ from my novel Tokyo Hearts: A Japanese Love Story. Thank you so much for this Antonia!

Haruka

Tokyo Style Winter 2013

I’ve been looking at various magazines and TV programmes to find out what is popular in Tokyo this season and I’m seeing a big trend towards vests and gilets for both men and women, on the streets this winter. Elegant versions can be worn to create a more polished finish and thicker styles will achieve a stronger sense of functionality. For women, I particularly like vests trimmed with shearling. I also adore the Arun knits with their textured cable patterns in deep shades like burgundy and teal. Contrast any of these with plain shirts and tops to reveal a pop of colour.

Men continue to stand out in the puffer vests worn as outerwear – a trend that has already been popular for the last few years.

A Japanese fashion brand that has really emerged in Tokyo called A Degree Fahrenheit by Yu Amatsu is well worth a mention. I’m loving his interpretation of the long drape vest (see below). Amatsu worked in New York for fashion wizards like Marc Jabobs and Jen Kao. I’m sure that after the Mercedes-Benz Tokyo Fashion Week 2013/14, the whole world will easily become entranced by his attention to detail and structure.

A Degree fashion image