It is not known when the hibachi was first used in Japan, however written records suggest that it was used by the Heian period (798-1185 AD). Owing to the low availability of metal in Japan, early hibachis were made from dug-out cypress wood lined with clay. However, craftsmen soon began to make more decorative versions with lacquered finishes, gold leaf, and other artistic embellishments.
Stronger materials such as metal and ceramics became popular over time. Traditional hibachis can be very attractive objects in themselves and are today sometimes sold as antiques. They were originally used mainly by the samurai classes and aristocrats but gradually spread among ordinary people. Their design developed throughout the Edo period.
For most of its history the hibachi was used for heating, but it has been put to many uses; for example, as a cigarette lighter and portable stove for Japanese troops during World War II.
The hibachi was once a common sight in Japan before the Second World War, and was often seen in waiting rooms at train stations, but it became a rarity and was gradually replaced by the oil heaters now commonplace in Japan. (Central heating is relatively rare in Japanese homes.)