What is a Futon?

Traditional Japanese Bedding, “Futon”.

When you hear the word “futon”, what kind of images appear in your mind? Perhaps you think of a mattress with a fabric exterior or sofa bed. But in this article, the word “futon” is used for the traditional Japanese bedding.

Some of you may have already used it in a Japanese inn during a Japan trip. Since the cotton is generally used for stuffing, it is also called organic cotton futons in foreign countries.

In Japan, futons are generally laid out on tatami mats at night and put away in a closet called oshiire in the morning. This is because apartments and homes in Japan tend to be very compact and the living space is limited. In order to use a room for a purpose other than a bedroom, we keep futons neatly folded and stacked in the oshiire when not in use.

A traditional Japanese futon set includes a kakebuton (comforter), and a shikibuton (bottom mattress). You can lay the shikibuton directly on the tatami mats without any mattress pads or mattresses. Although the shikibuton is less resilient than a thick bed mattress, the natural resilience can be achieved when used with tatami mats, which will gently support your body. You can use the shikibuton with cotton sheets or blankets over the top. As for kakebuton, the use of a kakebuton cover might be desirable so as not to allow your skin to touch directly to the kakebuton.

Japan has four distinct seasons. Summer is hot and humid, while winter can be extremely cold. For this reason, we use a summer futon during summer and a winter futon during winter.

In summer, soft and smooth quick-drying sheets or cotton blankets are often laid out on a shikibuton. Some people use the bed sheets made of bamboo fibers or rush grasses used for the tatami mats. Although those bed sheets become less soft, they feel cool to the touch and possess a pleasing flavor, so they are suitable for a dry comfortable sleep. In winter, we place several layers of hada-butons (thinner futons) or blankets under the kakebuton. By doing so, the layer of warm air can be formed inside.

An increasing number of people are now sleeping on the beds here in Japan, and even so, a wafuton has been still popular.

Learning futon-related Japanese vocabulary

It is a Japanese-style closet which is usually equipped with a pair of sliding doors called ‘fusuma.’ A fusuma paper attached to the fusuma panel is changeable, so it is possible to change from the conventional papers to your favorite papers. A DIY store usually offer a wide variety of fusuma papers.

The standard size of a fusuma panel is about 90×1850cm. Although the size of oshiire may change depending on the size of the room, it may be equivalent to one-four panels.
The inside storage space is divided by a partition plate into the upper section and the lower section. Futons are usually stored in the upper section so that we can take them in and out easily without bending over. And heavy stuffs are usually stored in the lower section.

When we have an unexpected visitor, we put away the various things scattered about the room in the oshiire quickly and shut the fusuma completely first and then show him/her to the tidy room.