Japanese people take great pride in embracing their preserved culture. For instance, unlike most of us who eat in long-legged dining tables, Japanese people use a chabudai, a traditional short-legged dining table. And there’s another question that comes to mind…
Do Japanese people use beds? Whether a Japanese home uses a traditional futon paired with a makura pillow or a contemporary, Western-style bed is predominantly a matter of personal taste. According to Japan Talk, the majority of Japanese homes still sleep in conventional futons, while most hotels in Japan have modern Western-style beds.
What Are Japanese Futons?
A traditional Japanese Futon setup is made up of the mat flooring (tatami), the mattress (shikibuton), the thick comforter (kakebuton), and the pillow (makura).
Most people refer to Shikibuton and Kakebuton as Futon. But there are differences: the Shikibuton is the foldable, thin mattress that lays on top of the tatami. The kakebuton is a thick comforter on top of the shikibuton that may be used as a blanket.
A shikibuton is a slim, rectangular, and foldable mattress stuffed with cotton, wool, or synthetic fiber. It’s thinner than the modern mattress we use nowadays, and usually measures 3 to 4 inches in height. A shikibuton comes in a variety of sizes to meet the needs of conveniences, but traditionally, it is a single sleeping width used on top of a tatami mat to keep the mattress off the floor.
A kakebuton is a thick comforter that is crucial to complete a traditional Japanese futon. Similar to a Western duvet, it is made of hand-pulled silk. Usually, it has a net to allow air to flow through for a more cooling effect even when you’re under it. Thanks to its silk filling, it is breathable, lightweight, and useful for keeping you warm.
In Japan, the type of bed people get is primarily driven by the flooring their home has. Tatami is a traditional Japanese mat flooring, while Western-style flooring is more of a modern style. Traditional futon setups are for tatami, while Western-type beds are for Western-style flooring.
How to Care for a Japanese Futon?
Properly maintaining a futon is essential if you don’t want to sleep with unwelcome “bedmates.” A poorly-maintained futon will grow mold, become a habitat of mites, or worse, both.
A crucial maintenance tip when taking care of a futon is to dry it outside regularly. How often and how long you should dry a futon depends on the type of futon you have. Below is a break-down of how often and how long you should dry a futon depending its material:
- Feather: Feather futons should be dried either under a shade with a cover or bare in direct sunlight for at least 1-2 times per month. Drying this type of futon should take 1-2 hours on each side.
- Wool: Wool futons should be dried at least 3-4 times a month. You can dry this type of futon under a shade with a cover or bare in direct sunlight, and it should take at least an hour on each side.
- Cotton: Cotton futons should be dried at least once a week, but every day would work as well. This type of futon must be dried under the sun for at least an hour on each side.
- Synthetic Fiber: Synthetic fiber futons should be dried under the sun as often as possible, but once a week would work as well. Let it rest in the warm sun for at least 2 hours on each side.
It is essential to follow the guidelines above and not dry your futon too long, as it will weaken the fibers and make the color fade. The best time to dry your futon is between 10 am and 3 pm when the sun is most strong, and humidity is low. Avoid putting out the futon too early or at night when humidity is relatively high.
Futon Drying Cover
It’s also an excellent strategy to put a Futon Drying Cover (view on Amazon) over the top to protect it from pollen and other particles. A cover protects the color from fading. The best color for a drying cover is black as it will naturally help the futon heat up.
While drying the futon outside is the perfect way to take care of your futon, sometimes it is merely impossible to do so. Maybe it’s the rainy season, the humidity is extremely high, or you don’t have the convenience of hanging the futon outside. In these cases, you may consider drying the futon inside. Below are a few tips for drying your futon indoors when drying it out is not an option:
How to Dry a Futon Inside
- There are special futons available that don’t need to be dried outside as much as a regular futon. Although they are more pricey than regular ones, the convenience of not having to dry it out regularly makes it worth it.
- Use a quality washable bed pad to place over the futon. Having a washable bed pad saves you the worry of having to dry out the futon regularly. As long as you wash your bed pad as often as possible, you’re all right.
- Buying a Futon Dryer Machine (view on Amazon) would be the best option to ensure that your futon is dry and clean without drying it outside.
- Lastly, the most convenient option would be taking your futon to the cleaners. Professional cleaning services are big business, and there is most likely one near you. The cost of getting a futon cleaned largely depends on its material type.
What Is a Tatami Mat?
Tatami mats are a traditional flooring that is still being used in most homes in Japan. It is made of woven rush and cloth. A new tatami mat is initially green in color, but as it grows old, it becomes yellow.
A traditional Japanese-style room is called Washitsu; it is a type of room that always has the conventional Japanese flooring.
How to Care for a Tatami Mat
Tatami mats are incredibly vulnerable to humidity. If a tatami mat is neglected in a humid atmosphere, it will start sprouting mold. To avoid humidity, open air vents, and windows, and use a dehumidifier.
The easiest way to clean a tatami mat is by vacuuming it daily using the Shark Vacuum Lift Away Professional Vacuum (view on Amazon). This type of vacuum is perfect for maintaining a tatami mat because of its versatility to clean hard floors, carpets, and tatami mats and its capability to clean hard-to-reach areas.
For more thorough cleaning, wipe the tatami mat with a dry cloth. Tatami mats are extremely absorbent, and cleaning it with a wet cloth will leave retained moisture that will cause mold to grow. It may also remove some of the natural surface oils which help protect the mat from aging too quickly. Most importantly, all types of cleaning must be done in the same direction the rush is woven in to avoid damage to the mat.
In Japan, it is customary to remove your shoes before entering a room with Tatami mats. This practice not only applies in Japan but anywhere that has tatami flooring because shoes may physically damage the woven rush of the tatami mat.
What to Do When the Tatami Mat Has Grown Mold
For tatami mat maintenance, let’s discuss how to keep them clean, and also, what to do when they have mold or are merely beyond cleaning.
Daily cleaning of the tatami mat will keep it in good shape through its average life span of 5 to 6 years. Use a vacuum, and thoroughly clean it with a dry cloth.
But sometimes, it’s just too late, and the tatami mats have already grown mold or just simply beyond cleaning already.
Mold on a tatami mat can be removed by gently brushing it with a toothbrush and mold remover. However, if a tatami mat is already yellow, even after removing the mold, then it is time to replace it with a new one.
Where to Buy Tatami Mats and Japanese Futons
Usually, tatami mats are ordered to fit the room size, and they are always made in a 2:1 ratio. Additionally, there are four standard sizes: Kyouma, Chuukyouma, Edoma, and Danchima.
The easiest way to get your hands on a tatami mat and a futon is to order one. This IKEHIKO Tatami Mat (view on Amazon) is an ideal choice. Pair it with the FULI Japanese Traditional Shiki Futon (view on Amazon) which comes in various sizes as well, and you’re all set for a traditional Japanese sleeping experience!