What is Irori (sunken hearth)?
Irori is also called "sunken hearth" or " fireplace" in Japanese and refers to the square or rectangular hearths used in traditional Japanese houses. It was used to heat a room by burning charcoal or firewood in the ash-lined hearth, to cook pots and pans by hanging them on hooks above the hearth, and as a heat source for cooking by placing food on the edge of the hearth. In other words, you can think of it as a combination of what we now call a stove and a stove.
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Points to keep in mind when setting up Irori (sunken hearth)
Now that we know a little more about sunken hearths, let's take a look at what to look out for when installing a sunken hearth.
The first thing to consider is how to deal with the smoke emitted from the hearth. Since irori (Sunken hearth) does not have a chimney like a fireplace, a smoke window is necessary to exhaust the smoke that accumulates in the room. The smoke window is usually placed in a hole in the ceiling above the sunken hearth, and the window is usually placed in the ceiling or other location that is accessible through the hole.
Carbon monoxide detection
A carbon monoxide alarm (fire alarm) should always be installed in a sunken hearth room, regardless of the size of the hearth. Especially in the case of small sunken hearth rooms, more attention should be paid to the possibility of chronic carbon monoxide infiltration. For a modern house, a fire alarm is fine, but for a sunken hearth room, we recommend the installation of an oxygen monoxide alarm. A fire extinguisher should be installed along with the alarm for added peace of mind.
Fire is the most important concern in the sunken hearth area. In the past, sunken hearths in traditional Japanese houses have been the source of fires. It is important to consider that building a sunken hearth is like building a bonfire inside a house, and it is important to manage it with the utmost care.
How to build a sunken hearth
Now that you know what to look out for in a sunken hearth, let's talk about how to actually build a sunken hearth. The structure of a sunken hearth is very simple, so it is possible to build one as a DIY project, depending on your skill and ingenuity. The basic premise, however, is that the hearth must be built in a wooden house where the subfloor can be cut out. Here are the concrete steps.
Building the base
The first step is to build the base of the sunken hearth. In the case of a wooden house, remove the floorboards, and then remove the pillars on which the floorboards are mounted. At this time, determine with care that the smoke exhaust conductor is in a position to be played directly above the position where it is to be removed. Once the columns are removed, build an ash tank in the foundation area with concrete blocks or mortar. The fuel wood and ashes will be placed in this area.
Making the furnace rimdiv>The rim of the furnace should be made of wood or bricks, which are less flammable than metal materials because they get too hot. The height of the rim is up to you, but 10 cm is a good rule of thumb.
Making the fire shelf
Once the hearth rim is completed, the next step is to make the fire shelf. The fire shelf, which hangs from the top of the sunken hearth, was designed to diffuse the rising hot air into the room when wood is used. In other words, if there is no need to diffuse smoke, or if charcoal is used, there is no need to install a fire shelf if it is troublesome because it has no practical meaning. Please think of it as a decorative device. To install, simply hang the four corners of a lattice or board frame made of bamboo or wood from the ceiling with twine.
Making a free hook
A free-standing hook is an anchor that hangs from the top of the sunken hearth and is used to hook pots, kettles, etc. The purpose is to control the heat by adjusting the height. You will often see one with a fishhook attached, but a full-fledged one costs from 50,000 to 100,000 yen. It is not necessary to have a fishhook attached, and with some ingenuity, a simple hook attached to a rope can be used as a substitute. In addition to the above, other useful items include tongs for handling charcoal, ash acclimatizer, extinguishing pots for putting out charcoal fires, and a pot on which to place a net, etc.
Limitations on the Interior
Interior restrictions are legal restrictions that must be observed when building a sunken hearth. If a sunken hearth is built on the first floor of a wooden house, the room is considered a room for the following uses, so the same interior restrictions as for the kitchen must be observed.
Content of Notification
The Building Standard Law stipulates the rules and regulations in the Notification. For details, please refer to the actual regulations, but in brief, specified noncombustible materials must be used near the sunken hearth, and noncombustible materials must be used within 1 m of the edge of the hearth.
Placement of a sunken hearth
Sunken hearths and sunken hearth tables are treated in the same way as brazier or cassette stove and are not subject to interior decoration restrictions. However, they are still sources of fire, so care must be taken when using them indoors.
How to enjoy the sunken hearth
As we have seen, the sunken hearth is not a simple thing to use, but on the other hand, there are some enjoyments that are unique to the sunken hearth.
To keep warm
First of all, as a heating apparatus, the sunken hearth provides the pleasure of keeping warm. Gazing at the fire around the sunken hearth and spending time relaxing gently as if you were indoors by a bonfire or campfire is another luxurious enjoyment that only the sunken hearth can offer.
Another great pleasure is to use the sunken hearth as a heat source for cooking. Typical examples are hanging a pot on the hearth to cook a pot of rice or hanging skewers on the edge of the hearth to roast food on skewers. In recent years, cooking utensils have evolved in a wide variety, so there are many ways to enjoy not only Japanese food, but also other types of food, depending on your creativity.
Fuel for the sunken hearth
Wood and charcoal are the basic fuels used for sunken hearths. Traditionally, wood was the most common fuel, but in recent years, charcoal, which does not produce smoke, has been widely used because of the smoke it produces.
The greatest appeal of wood is the flickering flame. It also has more heat than charcoal, making it suitable for cooking. In addition, different types of wood have different aromas, are inexpensive, and can be used as charcoal in the end. On the other hand, smoke and soot are unavoidable problems. For this reason, charcoal is best suited for spacious rooms such as old Japanese houses and requires the utmost care when handling the fire.
The charm of charcoal is that it is readily available at home improvement stores, easy to start a fire, and requires no drying time, so it can be handled easily. Another advantage is that it produces less smoke than firewood, and even a small amount of charcoal can be expected to produce a certain amount of heat.
The above is how to make and enjoy a sunken hearth. The way of life represented by living in a traditional Japanese house. The sense of time that can only be felt in a sunken hearth and the daring to live with a sense of inconvenience may be said to be an irreplaceable pleasure that can only be experienced in Japan.