How comfortable are Japanese futons

How the futon conquered the bedroom

Sleep like in Japan: This is only really authentic on a futon. Make yourself comfortable and be surprised what the Japanese mattress can do and why it is so popular with us too.


What is futon and what is not?

Just a mattress? A futon (布 団) is more than that. First of all, you can call the mat itself a futon or the entire package. For many Japanese, on the other hand, every type of bed is a "futon" today, at least in usage. A complete, traditional Japanese bed consists of at least two parts: the shikibuton (literally "futon to spread out", 敷 き 布 団), i.e. the mattress itself including mattress topper, and kakebuton (literally "futon to cover", 掛 け 布 団), the ( Quilted blanket.

There is also Makura (枕), the pillow. Instead of animal fiber or cloth, it is filled with buckwheat or beans. Sounds uncomfortable at first, but does wonders for the neck and neck: The pillow adapts perfectly to the head and sleeping position and has a natural insulating function that depends on the temperature. Like a grain pillow, it provides warmth in the cold season and is pleasantly cool when it gets too warm. With their supportive and massaging effect, Makura pillows can even alleviate and counteract pain and deformities. Another factor that ensures this is the shorter length of up to 30 cm, so the pillows are available in many different shapes, depending on your taste.

But the kakebuton is also special. Like the futon, this blanket is classically made of 100% pure cotton. Much that is good and authentic in Japan is handcrafted with care and this quality has its price. This blanket has many advantages at the same time: First of all, the kakebuton is made of natural material that kills mold and mites. In addition, the blanket is pleasantly warm and at the same time breathable, which is a relief on summer nights. With typical Japanese patterns, you can quickly turn the kakebuton into an eye-catcher.


Sleep better since ...

The futon evolved and revolutionized sleep culture in Japan over the ages. Until around the 12th century, sleeping mats were woven from rush and rice straw and placed on wood. As a result, however, they were too thin to offer adequate comfort and had to be layered. This is how the tatami mat was first created: at the beginning as a seat for nobles and sleeping pads for samurai, it covered entire rooms by the 16th century at the latest. With rice and other crops growing more efficiently, there was more than enough straw available for the bedroom.

In addition, wealthy people in Japan had a pillow in addition to their straw mat, or even a kind of silk four-poster bed, which was very popular with nobles around the 8th century. Aside from its aesthetics, it also had a practical use: it offered protection from pesky insects in summer and from the biting cold in winter.

When tatami mats found their way into Japanese homes, cotton-filled blankets were also used: the kakebuton was born. Interestingly, the first kakebutons still had sleeves, but they were not used for the arms: Instead, they were placed next to the futon to warm and stabilize the blanket. It would take some time before the first comfortable and warm cotton futon beds appeared. It was not until the Edo period (1603 to 1868) that cotton production boomed, so that soon everyone could afford to sleep on it.

The slightly raised tokonoma in Japanese houses reminds us that tatami mats were once also used for sleeping: A small niche in which paintings, ikebana or other art objects can be placed. The bedroom used to be a place that was loved to be decorated and therefore developed into the center of the house where guests were received.


A bed with many talents

Photo credits: Author: Toby Oxborrow | Flickr | License

The futon came to Europe from Japan around the 80s. With its naturalness, minimalist elegance, practical nature and the many health benefits, it quickly became a success. But what is the difference between futons and mattresses, such as latex mattresses as we know them? Usually a futon is made of pure cotton, quilted with felt buttons and is quite thin: Futons are made about 5 to 10 cm thick, which corresponds to six layers of cotton. At 180 by 90 cm, their length and width are traditionally smaller than ours and made for Japanese needs: The dimensions correspond to a tatami mat on which a futon is rolled out in Japan. However, a freshly purchased futon will expand after a while, so that it might look small at first. Of course, there are now variants in all imaginable sizes for everyone who wants more space to sleep. In addition, futon beds are more robust and do not sag as quickly as western mattresses. So they last a very long time and you save a lot of money and space with such an inexpensive bed.

Due to its natural material, a futon mattress is environmentally friendly, free of harmful substances and comfortable at the same time, not to mention that it does not become statically charged. Apart from the practical aspect that the futon can be rolled up compactly, its firm character makes it soothing for the back - especially for those who sleep on their sides. If you believe the old Japanese wisdom, a hard surface also makes the body harder and more resistant to disease and pain. Modern studies have long confirmed that mattresses that are too soft can cause back problems.

If, on the other hand, an authentic Japanese futon is too hard for you, you can enjoy a wide selection of modern variants of futon mattresses, which are provided with different materials. You will quickly find what you are looking for online and in specialist shops. Such materials have different capabilities:

  • Foam makes the futon softer and distributes the body weight optimally
  • Latex or rubber ensures elasticity and does not generate dust, which is a pleasure for allergy sufferers
  • Virgin wool warms very well, is self-cleaning and absorbs moisture and odor without leaving any traces
  • Horsehair keeps the futon mattress dry and robust
  • Plant-based ingredients such as hemp or coconut ensure optimal ventilation and insulation of the futon


Relax like in Japan

Even today, the Japanese like to nap on tatami mats. Since this is common in almost every place, whether on the train or in the office, it is questionable whether the straw covering would really be that comfortable for us. A futon bed, on the other hand, offers comfort for a good, sound sleep.

In the simple, traditional variant in Japan, the futon is still rolled out on the tatami variant today. The Japanese bed made of wood or metal is a little more luxurious, adapted to the western lifestyle. This is still lower than the European one and is basically just made of boards. In this way, such a futon bed is flat and space-saving. From a simple design that fits the Japanese aesthetic to unusual, rounded and ornate variants, everything is possible here. Storage drawers can also be built in.

It is also possible to place a futon on a classic bed with a slatted frame, to lay it on a frame, or to reinterpret it as a sofa bed - there are no limits to the imagination. However, since the classic, thin futon is optimized for tatami and flooring, in such a case it is better to choose a mixed model than pure cotton. These types mentioned above are well suited for the western bed or sofa bed and can be placed on slatted frames like conventional mattresses, as they are a little thicker and adapted to European conditions. For example, futon beds are softer and support optimal sleeping comfort when you want to lie higher.

A bed frame built into the wall, which can be hidden in the wall with the futon, is suitable for small apartments. But the thin and flexible futon can also be easily rolled up and stowed away so that the bed space can be used for other purposes during the day. In small, Japanese apartments you often don't have a separate bedroom and you can make good use of the space you have gained. Such flexibility is also an advantage when moving. There are built-in wardrobes (oshiire) in traditional Japanese houses especially for this purpose.


Model for massaging or meditation

But you can not only sleep on a futon. Such a versatile pad lends itself to various activities, and the different varieties of Japanese mattresses make this clear.

The Shiatsu futon is ideal for a relaxing massage. relaxing Japanese finger pressure massage and is oriented towards the harmony and balance between body and mind. A futon for Shiatsu usually consists of four layers of cotton and is therefore somewhat thinner and harder than the futon for sheep. It offers a solid, safe and insulating surface for effective and soothing Shiatsu massages. There are also special sheets and pillows that massage oil cannot harm. Some people also like to use such a mat for yoga, and when visitors arrive, they can be used very well as a mattress for guests.

Another member of the futon "family" comes from the Edo period: the zabuton (literally: "sitting futon", 座 布 団), which serves as a seat cushion for meditation. Or as a base, because a round, soft zafu is often placed on top of the zabuton. This construction is traditionally used in zazen meditation, both in the temple and at home, a comfortable seat and a suitable posture: straight and slightly bent forward. In addition, a good mat protects against the cold.


Caring for futon mattresses properly

Photo credits: Author: Chris RubberDragon | Flickr | License

In order for a sturdy futon to serve you well for a long time to come, it only needs a little care. To do this, you should ventilate and dry it regularly, preferably outside in the sun. For those who do not have a balcony or terrace to hang out, there are even special devices for drying, which, like a hair dryer, blow warm air through the futon mattress and the kakebuton.

Rolling it up every day is also important to prevent absorbed moisture from remaining in the cotton: when the futon is rolled up, the absorbent fibers unfold again. In addition, the futon does not become too firm, because upright cotton fibers ensure a softer and more comfortable surface.

The cotton cover that protects the futon bed cannot be removed, it does not have to be washed. Of course, you can also purchase it yourself, but you should ensure that there is adequate ventilation. A “modern” futon with a mix of materials is a little easier to care for, but usually cannot be rolled up as easily. You can help here by turning and airing the futon regularly.

A futon is something for everyone: whether you want to live a more minimalist and natural life, improve your sleep or just try something new. The only way to find out which composition suits you best and which you like best is by testing it out. So - get on the futon and relax!


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