Traditional Japanese Futon – All You Need to Know
Walmart and IKEA may be futon centrals nowadays, but this traditional Japanese futon has a much longer and richer history. They were used in Japan for centuries before they were ever popular in the West and to your surprise, it may look nothing like a futon sofa bed you usually see. Let us explain.
- 1 What Is a Traditional Japanese Futon?
- 2 Why a Traditional Japanese Futon?
- 3 Why Not a Traditional Japanese Futon?
- 4 How to Maintain a Japanese Futon
- 5 Conclusion
What Is a Traditional Japanese Futon?
It sounds like a simple question, but there is still some confusion about what constitutes a futon. Is the futon a couch? Is it a folding sofa frame? Is it just a bed without springs?
The answer to that question is actually fairly simple: the Japanese word for a traditional bed is futon, so, technically, futon simply means “bed”. The whole traditional Japanese FUTON comprises of three pieces and was placed on the ground or on a tatami mat. The parts include the shikibuton – the mattress; the kakebuton – the comforter; and a pillow filled with beans- called makura. Essentially, it’s a bed with no bed frame. A Western Style Futon you know may have the Futon Frame, Futon Mattress only, and Futon Slipcover. But it is not traditional, we don’t mention it here.
- A Traditional Japanese Style Futon the 3 parts are called the Shikibuton, Futon, Kakibuton
Tatami mats are traditionally a woven grass or reed mat that provides an airy yet firm support. They help keep your Shiki futon from resting flat on the floor to provide additional cushioning as well as breathability. In some Japanese homes, people use them as whole coverage flooring or within pieces of furniture.
- A Japanese futon is laid out on a tatami mat made of straw instead of housed in a frame.
Materials to make modern tatami mats may be synthetic foams, rubber, or others to provide a similar effect. People use modern tatami to provide both protection for flooring as well as provide a comfortable walking or sleeping surface.
Shikibuton – The bed cushion
Most significant part of a futon is a Shikibuton. So, how is the shikibuton, which is the cushion in the Japanese futon setup, different from the Western futon? Thickness. The shikibuton is about half the thickness of the standard Western futon–ranging from 3 – 4 inches of loft. But it isn’t that simple; the difference stems from the fact that Shiki futons are almost always exclusively made of cotton both in its cover and fill. The casing is usually a zippered cover made of woven cotton or cotton duck weave (a heavy cotton or linen weave, also called canvas). These are an ecologically friendly choice in both construction and use as it leave a very low environmental footprint.
Traditional shikibutons are slim, rectangular, cotton-stuffed sleeping cushions
Foam shikibuton choices are not true Japanese Futons. Although they may offer comfort and support, be aware that this is not a traditional Shikibuton, and it may not store as easily either.
Kakebuton – The Comforter
These comforters are similar to western duvets, usually, they come with removable covers too. These covers are usually light and breathable hand-pulled silk.
This makes them an excellent alternative to just any regular comforter. Sometimes, regular comforters can leave you hot and sticky or even feeling too cold. A kakebuton is suitable for regulating your body temperature to give you a perfect night’s sleep and a lot of the time they are also hypoallergenic.
This is how they hand made authentic futon in Japan
Why a Traditional Japanese Futon?
Best for back, blood vessels and health
Futon beds are one of the six keys to good health in Japan. There are various upsides to sleeping on a futon, the most pertinent being improvement in back pain. The firmness of futons actually keeps joints in the right position. This prevents sagging and overstretching which according to Osteopaths, is a common cause of backaches. We know how those heavenly soft those cloud-like mattresses are, at what cost? When you’re relying on your soft tissue instead of your bones to support the weight, your body can sag into all kinds of positions and shapes it really shouldn’t be in. In the long-run, they could be putting some serious strain on your back.
Besides, normal mattresses, which don’t offer as much resistance as the floor does, can impede our circulation and make it difficult for our body to realign during sleep. If you can imagine as you’re sleeping the weight of your body and gravity is pushing down towards whatever surface you’re sleeping on. Now, you do want some resistance, something pushing back so that your body can align. Your blood vessels are in line and your circulation is better.
Let’s hear review from a youtuber after his 2 month experience with floor sleeping:
Mattresses are commonly known to have lots of toxins. And yes you can avoid that by finding an organic mattress, but those are also very expensive. And what I really like about sleeping on a futon, is that I can air them out whenever I want. Futons are so lightweight and easy to move that I put my futon out over my balcony once a week to get fresh air and sun.
And that’s something that would be really hard to do with a mattress. So you can find over years that mattress actually gets heavier and heavier because of the bacteria that they’re growing inside of them. In Japan traditionally futons are made of 100% cotton and that is definitely what I would recommend. One, because it’s the most comfortable and two, cotton is a lot less likely to grow bacteria than artificial fabrics like polyester and it’s just nice to know that you’re sleeping on something natural rather than something more like plastic.
Save space in your house
Think about how much surface area your bed takes up – a lot right? If you love a bit of freestyle dancing, working out or yoga and pilates in your room, a futon mattress will open your room up to these activities. Because Futons are so easy to fold up and put away, which makes them extremely versatile and you can use your bedroom for a completely different space during the day. You will want to think about where you would store your futon when you’re not sleeping on it. Some people just fold it up and put it on the side of their room. I like to keep ours in the closet so it’s out of sight.
You can even take futon on a trip for a comfortable night. And guess what, you don’t need to have a guest bedroom because any space in your house can become a guest bedroom. Just by putting out some futons.
Cheap and Functional
Futons generally cost between just under $100 on the low end and $600 or more on the high end. The size and make of the mattress and the complexity and design of the frame contribute to the cost.
While they are cheaper than regular beds and couches and can function as both, they are a popular option, especially for college dorm rooms or people living in cramped spaces in highly populated areas like Manhattan.
Much like Japanese people, futons have a notably impressive life expectancy. With proper care, futons should last between 8 and 15 years as opposed to 10 years maximum for a standard Western mattress.
Why Not a Traditional Japanese Futon?
Even though cotton helps wick away moisture, keep in mind that the human body loses up to a pint glass of water every night when we sleep. Some of that gets evaporated, but a lot of it ends up on the sleeping surface. Furthermore, futon was created to be on the floor and put away during day time–something many people aren’t willing to do. However, if not picking futon up in the morning means it doesn’t have access to proper airflow and can develop mildew, or worse, mold.
You can’t use your normal bed frame
Due to their thin build, you can not use futon directly on a slatted bed frame, those slats can be felt through the mattress (unless multiple shikibutons are used). To address this, you need specially designed Tatami Frames to hold Tatami Mats, which provide a breathable and completely flat surface for your shikibuton! Not only do they take care of aeration, but they are beautiful to boot.
It may be too firm for you
Not everyone finds the firm cushioning provided by cotton padding comfortable. Some sleepers may need two layers of shikibuton.
Difficult to Find
If you’re living in Japan it’s very easy to source futons. But perhaps if you’re outside of Japan, in another country, it’s not so common. In fact, most Western futon stores won’t even have them. Fortunately, True Japanese Futons are fairly easy to find online and are usually sold through specialty sleep stores. There are many types of cushions that claim to be a Shikibuton, but some include foam or even innerspring as part of the construction. The important thing to remember is the use of cotton in the construction to provide a true storable product.
How to Maintain a Japanese Futon
Protect Your Futon from Moisture
There are a few things you can do to prevent too much moisture build-up:
- Lay the shikibuton(s) on a breathable surface, such as a tatami mat or platform bed. You should also keep the flooring where you place your mat well cleaned.
- Make sure you use a natural cotton protective cover.
- Whenever possible, hang your shikibuton out to dry, and expose it to sunlight
- Flip every week for the first couple of months and then once monthly (check your care instructions). If flipping is not possible, then regularly rotate the bed so that the head area is now at the feet, and vice versa.
Keep the Shikibuton from Forming Permanent Dips
- All-cotton shikibutons tend to form dips where the body lies. If you lie in the same place every night, turn the shikibuton around (i.e., head to foot) every few days. Or “fluff” the shikibuton by hanging it up and beating it with a tennis racket.
- Fold the shikifuton in thirds during the daytime to help stretch the fibers you were just compacting while you were sleeping on them.
- Provided that it has a protective cover, follow the cleaning instructions for the cover.
- Spot clean any organic stains on the futon with a mixture of water and detergent. Then saturate the area with rubbing alcohol to help dry and sanitize the area.
Although many people in Japan have Western-style mattresses and box springs, futons remain a popular choice, especially in compact apartments, because they’re easy to move or store away. In fact, Japanese favourite futon so much, they even write a song called “I don’ t wanna get out of futon”. So, if you’ve never considered Japanese bedding before, it may be time to think about making the switch. These beds boast can free up your room, your finances, and your life.