Futon-related items

In Japan, there are two kinds of futons used for a purpose other than the bedding. One is called zabuton and the other is called a kotatsu-buton. You can learn about how to use each item in this article.

Zabuton
It is a floor cushion. This useful item can be seen in almost every house in Japan.
When we sit in the formal style called seiza, we use this item so that we can keep the seiza style with less pain or without numbness in the legs.

Zabutons usually come in a wide variety of sizes and a zabuton name changes depending on its size. Here are some examples.

Kozabuton: 40-50×40-50cm
It is a small sized zabuton, which is often used in places such as offices, cars, and restaurants. A thick-type kozabuton can be used as an alternative to a cushion. You can use it as a back support cushion when you watch TV or as a pillow when you take a nap.
This size is suitable for the relatively-compact living space.

Meisenban: 55×59cm
It is the most-commonly used zabuton, which is suitable for a little compact apartments.
Since the variety of zabuton covers for this size are available, it is recommended for those who want use zabuton covers which suite their taste.

Hattanban: 59×63cm
It is a traditional Japanese zabuton. It can be seen in the Japanese-style rooms of the traditional Japanese houses. It is often used for a visitor on the occasion of a Buddhist memorial service or a festive event held in the house. It is characterized by its capability of reducing the strain on the legs while sitting even for a prolonged time.

Donsuban: 63×68cm
It is often used as a gift because of its shiny surface and luxurious appearance.
In Japan, we use it as a gift of Respect-for-the-Aged Day or a gift in celebration of someone’s longevity such as Kanreki.

Meotoban: 67×72cm
It is a zaubton designed as bridal goods. Meotoban usually comes in pairs which consists of a blue-colored one for men and a red-colored one for women. Since it is extra-large size, it is also used as koza-zabuton which a rakugo storyteller uses on the stage.

Kotatsu-buton
It is a kotatsu futon. Please let me explain about a kotatsu first in case some readers don’t know what it is. It is a small table with an electric heater underneath and covered by a quilt (futon) to cut heat loss. If you have no idea what it is like, you can search Google to find images by typing in kotatsu.

When there wasn’t central heating or heaters in the houses in ancient times, people at the time used a small stove which held burning charcoal, which is called ‘hibachi,’ to heat the houses. In recent years, such a kotatsu-like item evolved into an electrical appliance, a kotatsu of today and became widely used in every house. Kotatsu tables come in various sizes including a small one for single use and a large one for a-large-family use. In Japan, family members often gather around the kotatsu and it becomes a dining table in wintertime.

Learning futon-related Japanese vocabulary


Oburoshiki

Do you know a traditional Japanese furoshiki? It’s a square piece of cloth used to wrap and carry various objects. It can be folded up compactly when not in use and it is reusable. So it would be like an eco-friendly shopping bag of today. There are great and beautiful ways to wrap various objects such as square, round and a 1.8 liter sake bottle in the furoshiki.
And now, let me explain about an oburoshiki. It is an extra-large-sized furoshiki, which can wrap up a futon. This item was used to carry the household goods for moving.

In Japan, there is the phrase, ‘oburoshiki wo hirogeru (spread out oburoshiki)’ which is meaning ‘making impossible plans or making a bold pronouncement,’ and this is because the fact that a fully-expanded oburoshiki is really huge. This expression is synonymous with ‘big talk’ in English.

Pillows and Sheets Made with Natural Materials


In Japan, there is a significant change in temperature and humidity by season. Especially summer in Japan is very humid and hot days with temperatures exceeding 30 degree continue. And there are also about 30 sweltering nights with temperatures staying above 25 degrees per year which is really unpleasant.

Therefore, pillows and sheets made with natural materials came to be preferred.

【Pillows】

Sobagara-makura
It is a pillow which buckwheat hulls are used for inner material. When milling buckwheat berries, buckwheat flour and hulls come out. The flour is supposed to be used to make soba, a popular noodle in Japan and the hulls are supposed to be thrown away. But from the mottainai spirit, those buckwheat hulls are recycled and turned into the inner materials of a pillow.

A buckwheat hull pillow can absorb the perspiration well and stay cool, so it is suitable for summer-use.

It can also be transformed any way you want. Furthermore, when you rearrange your head, the natural sound of buckwheat hulls comes from the pillow which makes you feel comfortable. Some people say that the sound make you feel like you are lying on the beach.

It is not recommended for people with the buckwheat allergies.

Since the natural materials are used for this item, it needs to be dried in the sun regularly for thick removal. It might be good to replace it with a new one after half a year to a year, because pollen-like substance may come out of the long-used buckwheat hull pillow.

It is not a kind of an easy-care goods, but you will be able to get a comfortable sleep with this pillow. Some people say that once you experience it, you would never be able to lose it.

Take-makura
It is a pillow which bamboo is used as a material. It feels cool to the touch and it’s very breathable, so it is suitable for summer-use and for a daytime nap.

Some people who are conscious of their thin hair are using this pillow for anti-thinning purpose, because the pillow is said to make it difficult to have a night sweat.

【Sheets】

Ne-goza
It is a mat which is woven from rush grass and looks like the surface of a tatami mat.
Since it feels cool and hardly stick to the skin, you can spend a comfortable night with it. You can fall asleep with the gentle scent of rush.

In these days, foreign-grown rush grasses are often used as materials. If you seek safety and high quality in this item, it is recommended to buy one which home-grown rush grasses are used as materials. It might to be good to buy one which organically grown rush grasses are used as materials, because you may inhale substances released from the mat during sleeping.

Learning futon-related Japanese vocabulary


Taka-makura

In the time when the Japanese people wore chonmage (topknot), there was a pillow called taka-makura which was popular among those, who want to keep their hairdos while sleeping, such as samurai with chonmage or maiko with Japanese-style hairdos.
In Japan, there is the expression, ‘taka-makura de neru’, which is meaning ‘sleep in peace.’