As for a traditional Japanese wafuton, cotton is used not only for stuffing but also for its exterior fabric. Other materials such as feather, wool or highly-functional synthetic fibers are recently preferred in Japan, because they are lightweight, less expensive or easy to care for. However, when it comes to a traditional futon, it always means a cotton futon.
As mentioned earlier, various futons other than the cotton futon became common in Japan. On the other hand, the traditional Japanese wafuton is gaining popularity in foreign countries. This is because the cotton is re-valued due to its excellent functions around the world.
Let’s see how cotton is excellent in the light of the environmental policy called “3Rs”, which is an acronym for “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.”
Raw materials used for the cotton futon are natural fibers from cotton plants, so if you bury it deep in the ground, it will be naturally converted into water and carbon dioxide with the help of bacteria in soil. Even if cotton fibers are incinerated, they can be incinerated with release of less carbon dioxide than chemical fibers and no emissions of pollutants, which means no harm to the environment.
If you take care of the cotton futon in an appropriate way, you can prolong their life. For example, cotton futons become less soft and flat like a senbei-buton after a long period of use, but they can go back to the original state which is soft and comfortable by exposing them to the sun outdoors, doing uchinaoshi (refabrication service of aged cotton batting) or washing it. Therefore, cotton futons can be handed down from parents to children for generations.
Cotton batting can be reused for other purposes besides making a futon. For example, it was customary for the Japanese people of long ago to recycle the long-used old futon and turn it into a zabuton (floor cushion) or a wataire (padded garment). Japan has cherished the concept of not wasting anything, even no-longer-usable items, which is known as the mottainai spirit. Many of us hesitate to throw away long-used items without thinking of the way to recycle them.
When you throw away long-used futons as waste products, they were previously supposed to be incinerated. But those dumped futons are recently supposed to be recycled and turned into various things such as cotton materials, yarns, fabrics or work gloves called gunte.
Cool Traditional Japanese Patterns
One of the reasons that wafutons become increasingly popular abroad is because various traditional Japanese patterns can be seen on the futon fabrics.
Types of wafuton fabrics
Satin called syusu is often used for wafuton. Satin is a general term for a glossy and smooth fabric which is usually woven from natural materials such as cotton or wool, or synthetic fibers sometimes.
Satin, which is woven from pure cotton, or tsumugi, which is woven from cotton or silk, is generally used for high-grade futons. Kasuri, which is known for its unique taste and woven from cotton, hemp or silk, is also popular as futon fabrics.
Most of fabric patterns of today are obtained by mechanical printing process. But even now, hand-woven or hand-dyed fabrics with various patterns are used for high-grade goods.
A typical motif of futon is colorful flower. This is because there was the custom of using recycled yarns from a waste kimono to make a futon and a typical motif of kimono became later futon motif.
Traditional Japanese Fabric Patterns
Nowadays, western-style patterned futons become increasing common but there are still many futons with typical traditional Japanese patterns.
If you tie a certain part of the cloth strongly with the thread and then soak it in the liquid dye, the pre-tied part of the cloth remain undyed. And as a result of it, various patterns can be achieved due to the combination of the undyed part and well-dyed part. This tie-dye method is called shibori-zome. Images formed on the fabric may change depending on how to tie the cloth prior to the dyeing process. A typical patterns of shibori-zome would be kanoko (child of a deer) and arimatsu.
It is a fabric pattern with fine motifs. Some komon patterns are created by using paper stenciling. There are a wide variety of komon motifs including geometric shapes, plants such as plum or cherry blossoms, tools such as folding fans, and natural phenomenon such as sea wave or snow. Although there are countless komon motifs, typical komon patterns would be edo-komon or kyo-komon.
It is one of the dyeing techniques to dye cloth with patterns by hand painting, which usually requires elaborate craftsmanship. Motifs such as plants or animals, folding fans or serving dishes, and landscapes can be often seen on the yuzen-dyed fabrics.
Typical yuzen would be kaga-yuzen or kyo-yuzen.
Traditional Japanese fabric motifs
Here are some traditional Japanese fabric motifs, which have been still loved by Japanese people of today. Each motif has been traditionally used as a lucky symbol of gorgeousness and plenty.
Matsu (a pine tree) is considered a symbol of health and longevity, because green needle leaves of a pine tree remain unchanged throughout the year.
Take (a bamboo) is known for its rapid growth, so take motif is often used in the hope of children’s growth.
It’s a small traditional Japanese ball. Children used to bounce the mari ball like dribbling a basketball or kick it like doing the soccer ball juggling. Mari motif has been generally used for children’s kimono.
It’s also called sensu. Since the shape of an unfolded sensu is known as ‘sue-hirogari (meaning bright future),’ it is considered a lucky charm.
It’s a geometric pattern which looks like a tortoise shell. The crane and the tortoise are emblems of longevity, as the old saying goes.
Learning futon-related Japanese vocabulary
A worn-out flattened and hard shikibuton is generally called senbei-buton, which looks like a senbei (Japanese rice cracker), hence the name senbei-buton.
In the rakugo comic stories, which is one of Japan’s traditional performing arts from Edo period, there is a description, ‘senbei-buton ni kashiwa-mochi’, which is meaning that a single man considers himself a rice cake wrapped in an oak leaf (kashiwamochi), because he also wrapped himself up in a flattened and hard futon(senbei-buton) . The rice cake wrapped in an oak leaf (kashiwamochi) is used as a metaphor to express the loneliness of being an unmarried man. I think it’s funny that he expressed the loneliness with the metaphor of sweets.
How about expressing yourself by using the metaphor of sweets?