Irori Fireplace (open hearth) (囲炉裏)
The irori fireplace, is a part of the floor that is squarely cut out and covered with coals in a traditional Japanese house to make a fire from charcoal or wood. It is mainly used for heating or cooking. "Ki" (unit) is used for counting. In the old days, it was called "Hitaki" or "Jikaro."
The firing system of a traditional Japanese house was composed of an Irori fireplace, a Kamado (cooking stove) exclusively for cooking, and a Hibachi (brazier) for human use. In a traditional Japanese house, a floored part and a unfloored part are jointed by a Daikokubashira (the main column of the house) as an axis. In many cases, the center of the floored part is cut out for the Irori fireplace. However, in some regions, the floored part along the side of the unfloored part was cut out. "Fumikomi ro" (Irori fire place on the earthen floor), which is found in a magariya (bent house) of the Morioka Domain, is a typical Doma (unfloored part) Irori fireplace. "Fumikomi ro" allows someone in shoes to sit around the Irori fireplace while performing agricultural chores. In addition, some Irori fireplaces in cold regions such as Tohoku are deep enough for one to put his/her legs down in the manner of a Horigotatsu (small table with an electric heater underneath and covered by a quilt, which is placed over an empty space so that one's legs are put down over the space). The Irori fireplace was developed as an essential part of everyday life, and each region has its own style.
In some houses, multiple Irori fireplaces existed, and they were divided according to their class differences. If there are two Irori fireplaces in a house; a family Irori fireplace, which makes a fire from wood, is used differently from a guest Irori fireplace, which makes a fire from charcoal. A luxurious jizaikagi (irori pot hook) or chagama (iron tea ceremony pot) was used in a smoke-free Irori fireplace where charcoal was used.
Nowadays, a zataku (low table) on which charcoal was fired in the center, or a large Hibachi (brazier) tend to be called `Irori.'
The Irori fireplace is fundamentally an immovable unit, whereas a movable unit is called a hibachi.
The Irori fireplace, whose style varied according to region, naturally seems to have quite a few names, which also vary according to region.
The names that have been handed down until today are: ro, jiro, hijiro, yuru, yurui, yururi, inaka, enaka, hennaka, ennaka, iriri, ire, sitajiro, subuto, jiryu.
The fuel for the Irori fireplace is different from that for a stove; fuel consumption is more important than fire intensity. In today's house, smoke-free charcoal is often used. In the old days, large wood pieces were often used for the Irori fireplace, whereas charcoal, which requires high cost, was exclusively used for hibachi. In some regions, a whole stump was dug out from the ground and burned without being broken into pieces. Charcoal was precious compared with wood, which could be obtained without cost in mountains.
The god of fire was often enshrined by the Irori, as it was the place where fire was handled.
In a Chasitsu (tea house), a firing system similar to the Irori fireplace is called "Ro" (hearth), which is placed in a tatami mat room. Its regular size is 42.42cm, or 54.54cm for a big fireplace of the Urasenke school of tea ceremony, which is much smaller than common Irori fireplaces.
The Irori fireplace is placed around the center of a room and heats the room
In irori fireplaces, various types of cuisine such as fried rice were cooked in the Irori fireplace using jizaikagi, an irori pot hook (to be described later), or Gotoku (a metal stand) for putting a pan on the fire. In addition, ingredients such as skewered fish are often stuck in ash around the fire, and other ingredients are also buried in ashes for cooking. Sake bottles are buried into ashes for heating from time to time. To be more specific, Kamado (cooking stove) was made in the Tohoku region mainly around 1955-1964; until then, various ingredients had been cooked in the Irori fireplace. In western Japan, whose climate is warm and mild, the use of Irori fireplace in summer is not encouraged, and an Irori fireplace and a kamado have been used differently since the old days.
Before the early modern period when fire was used as a major means of lighting, the Irori fireplace was a safe means that could light up a room. In the old days, a Taimatsu torch was burnt at a stand of Robe (hearth side). Articles for lighting, such as oil or candles, were too expensive for common people to use.
Hidana (a frame suspended over an irori [hearth]) was built and used for drying clothes, food, and natural wood pieces. Also, a clothes rack was placed near the Robe (hearthside) to dry wet clothes.
Source for making a fire
During the period when making a fire using tools such as a match was not easy, the fire of the Irori fireplace was always kept lit so that it could be used for making a fire for the Kamado or lighting.
The center of communication between family members
During dinner, family members naturally sit around the Irori fireplace, and conversations are raised. In general, sitting locations of family members were determined, which made family members aware of their ranks and the order of a family. The names of sitting locations around the Irori fireplace vary according to region. For instance, the names of sitting locations include yokoza (seat for the master of the house around the open hearth), Kakaza (seat for the housewife of a house, next to the master of a house, located near the kitchen, kyakuza (seat used by a guest, next to yokoza, near the entrance), Kijiri (seat for servants of a house, opposite yokoza) Shimoza (seat near the entrance).
This feature can be said to be a fundamental structure of a Japanese house that was originated in Ro (hearth) located at the center of a pit dwelling (house) in the Jomon period
In modern architecture, some features are handed down to Kotatsu (small table with an electric heater underneath and covered by a quilt); some say that family communication itself has been deteriorated today.
Durability enhancement in housing
Filling warm air around a room reduces moisture content of wood, keeping wood from rotting. Tar included in smoke from burning wood penetrates into building materials of beams, thatched roof, or straw roof, enhancing bug-proof property or waterproofing property.
A top-hooked tool suspended from the ceiling. Since the adjustment of the fire intensity of the Irori fireplace is difficult, the Jizaikagi is able to adjust its length so that a distance from the fire of the Irori fireplace can be adjusted. It is also called Jizai.
Yokogi (horizontal bar)
It is attached below the Jizaikagi, and horizontally sustains the weight. Most bars are fish-shaped metal bars, although some bars are wood bars.
Gotoku (metal stand)
Gotoku is a metal stand consisting of a round frame with three legs extending upward or downward from the frame. There are two ways of using it; grilling food over a net placed on the upper side of the Gotoku, and placing a pan directly on the Gotoku for cooking food. In the Hokuriku region, a Gotoku with a large ring on it is called Kanawa, and is used for a large metal pan which is too big for placement of the Jizaikagi to be hung up.
Watashi is a horizontally long metal grid stand with handles attached to its legs and in the center, and it is used for grilling Mochi (rice cake) or Dango (dumpling) in the Irori fireplace.
It is used to stick around the fire holding the handle, or to put wood under the fire,
In some regions, it is called "Tekki". Many Watashi are made in fan shape so that they can surround the fire.
Hibashi (chopsticks used in a fireplace)
Hibashi is a comparably long metal chopsticks. It can be used to adjust the fire intensity by moving or overturning burning charcoal pieces or wood pieces.
Hainarashi is a metal paddle to trim coals or draw coal patterns. In the old days, some Hainarashi were made of wood.
Juno is a small ladle made of metal plates or having a scoop-like shape. It is used to level ashes or to add some coals.
Daijuno (tool to carry charcoal fire)
Daijuno is a deep Juno with legs to be placed on a board and is used for safe carriage of charcoal fire. It is also called Daitsuki Juno (Juno with a stand).
Hikeshi tsubo (fire extinguishing pot)
Hikeshi tsubo is a pot to extinguish fire. It extinguishes fire confined in the pot by shutting out oxygen. It is made of ceramic, metal, or stone, and when used is often buried into coals at the corner of the Irori fireplace.
Hidana (frame suspended over irori [hearth])
Hidana is a wooden or bamboo board suspended from the ceiling over the top of the Irori fireplace. The hidana is made larger than the Irori fireplace, and it serves to diffuse smoke or heat as well as to keep fire sparks from stirring up. It is used to dry rain gear or to preserve food by hanging it in smoke. Many Hidanas that have been made recently are grids for decorative purposes, however, they are of no use, as fire sparks or smoke get through them.
Oki Irori (Irori fireplace to be placed)
Oki irori is a simple Irori fireplace that doesn't require floor construction. It is used in a similar manner to a table with Ro (hearth) or Hibachi.
For your information
In the fairy tale "Saru kani gassen" (battle between Crab and Monkey), a chestnut which had gone in the fire of the Irori fireplace burst from fire and directly hit the monkey, and the monkey was burned. In fact, this has actually happened from time to time, since chestnuts, rice cakes, and mountain plants were often buried and cooked in coals of the Irori fireplace. This episode seemed more realistic to children who lived when the Irori fireplace was commonly in his/her house, than to today's children.
Hideyo NOGUCHI fell into the Irori fireplace when he was young, and burned his left hand.