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Metal hibachi
Family hibachi with drawers, which every-day used things can be put in
Decorated hibachi with kiribako box
Modern way of using is popular not only in Japan

Heating device HIBACHI - the past and present...

22nd January 2011

We would like to start with this article this year's series of reportages, which should introduce to You more closely works of art and Japanese antiquities, which are offered in our e-shop.

HIBACHI is a term, which refers to portable charcoal brazier that serves as a source of heat. As from the linguistic point of view it is combination of two Japanese words HI (fire) and HACHI (bowl, basin). Although it is strongly associated with Japan, hibachi originated in China, where it was used to heat the homes of the nobility. It is not known when the hibachi was first used in Japan, but written records suggest that it could be during the Heian period ( 798-1185AD ). Owing to the low availability of metal in China and Japan, early hibachi were made from whitewood and lined with clay. However, craftsmen soon began to make other versions too. For example hibachi with metal inner part and case from wood, whereas thanks to lightness wood from paulownia tree - KIRI ( the tree, which is known in the Czech Republic as well ) was often used. Thus we can often meet the expression KIRI-HIBACHI as well. To create other decorative parts of hibachi e.g. gold leaves and other artistic embellishments were used. Heating device HIBACHI has many different varieties. Essentially we can divide them in two groups - "family types" and portable ones. As time has passed hibachi has shaped and nowadays we can admire as well as wooden as ceramic and metal versions. Traditional hibachi are often sold as antiques today. They were originally used mainly by the highest classes of Japanese society, but gradually spread among ordinary people too.

An integral part of hibachi is ash of rice husks. It does not only isolate fire from the downer part of basin, but also as only one kind of ash ( other kinds of ash crush down )it can, thanks to its lightness and porousness, ensure sufficient supply of air, which is important for good burning. The fire is not made directly in the basin, but instead of it coal is heated in another place and then carefully put in small hole made in the middle of ash. Then rice briquettes or high-quality coal used for grilling, which should have as low amount of impurities as possible,  are put on it. After extinction of fire hibachi should be let cool down and the very next day the rest of coals is taken out and ash is made clean. This used to be one of the tasks of geisha, who were looking after master's house. To handle with coal in the heating device or to feed fire the iron sticks are used. They can be very plain in decoration, or decorated for example with golden statuettes of animals at the ends, which people then hold in their hands. Beside the practical use the sticks, similar as the decoration of the wooden case of hibachi, can tell us about the social position of theirs owner. The more expensive the decoration was, the greater power and influence the owner had. In summer when it was not needed to make fire in hibachi, they were put in special case called kiribako and were stored in the places dedicated to it. The cleaned ash was stored separately in some dry place.

Nowadays esepecially collectors of antiquities and lovers of works of arts are interested in hibachi. For majority of us the hibachi are tightly connected with the task of heating houses, but their usage was historically about a lot of broader. For example they were used as still burning source of fire or portable stove for Japanese troops during World War II. And if we had had the chance to return in time we could have seen them in waiting rooms at train stations, where they were gradually replaced my more modern technology – oil heaters. However in minds of Japanese they remain till these days and it can be said that they have become one of the national traditions.

If You during reading this article got interested in this topic, You can look at our offer of hibachi and eventually buy some of them.

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