Tatamis - the symbol for the Japanese style of living

The tatami has long tradition in Japan. Tatamis are used as flooring in traditionally designed rooms, the so-called washitsu.

There the natural rice straw mat tatami is only used barefoot or with socks, to not damage or stain the surface. Since tatami mats are insulating well they are also used as seating or sleeping place.

To sleep a futon mattress is rolled out on the tatamis. In the morning the futon is rolled up again and put aside or stored in a cupboard.

This practical functionality, especially in small rooms, and the aesthetics of tatami build a symbol for the so-called Japanese style of living, that enjoys ever greater popularity in Europe.

Tatami as flooring for the bedroom
An example of a classic floor covering in traditional Japanese houses

Information on Tatami

What are Tatami mats?

Tatamis are insulating and cushioning mats made of rice straw that are a few centimeters thick. By Japanese tradition tatami mats are used as flooring. On these a futon is rolled out to sleep on the floor. During the day the futon is rolled up again and stored in a cupboard for example. That way tatamis can be an alternative to beds, since a futon mattress can lay on them. But there are also special tatami beds, where the tatami forms the surface for a futon mattress. Since the highly compacted rice straw mats don't offer ventilation, the mattresses need to be turned over regularly.

What are tatami mats made of?

Tatami mats are made of the natural materials straw and grass. The core of the tatami mat is rice straw, onto which a rush mat is fixed with cotton bands sewn on the sides.

In Japan, the flutter rush is used for this purpose (jap. Igusa). A tatami mat is usually 4.5 cm thick (standard pressing) or 5.5 cm (HQ/High Quality)."

How are tatami made?

1. In the first step, the core of the tatami mat is pressed from several layers of rice straw. The core of the mat is called Tatami-Doko.

2. Next, a rush mat tied from Igusa grass is wrapped around the rice straw core, the so-called Tatami-Omote.

3. Afterward, the edges of the tatami mat are bordered with a textile band, which is called Tatami-Beri.

The use of tatamis

sleeping and sitting underlay for rice straw mats

Traditional use

Originally Tatamis served the nobility as sleeping and sitting underlay. Then later, entire living rooms were lined with the rice straw mats.

Today, the type of traditional interior decoration is no longer so widespread, but in many Japanese homes there is still at least one room, which is laid out with tatami mats.

greenly surface of the rice straw mats in a martial arts center

For martial arts as floor mats

Tatami mats are also used in Japanese martial arts, such as in judo or karate.

Especially the 5.5cm thick mats are used to cushion throws and falling techniques.

Twin Futon

As underlay for a futon

There are two options to use tatami as a underlay for a futon:

1. A futon (like a TWIN FUTON) lying on tatami mats lets you sleep close to the floor.

2. A tatami bed places the mats on slats or a wooden substructure of the bed frame.

How are tatamis maintained?

With the right care, you will enjoy your tatami for many years. Tatamis should of course be stored in a dry place, as the mats are made from natural raw materials. That means they can vary in color, become desaturated with time and have a natural odor, that reminds of straw and hay. The rice straw mats are quite sensitive to friction and therefore shouldn't be walked on with shoes.

The mats are also reacting very sensitive to loads with small contact surfaces, which is why one should only choose furniture that can distribute its weight over a large area.
Also make sure that the room you are placing your tatami in is suficciently ventilated. Otherwise foxing or mold spots may form on the mats if they are laid in a room where condensation moisture builds up. (like basement apartments)

1. Unpacking

Tatami unpacking

when the tatami mats arrive, they need a few days to air out after unpacking, preferably at room temperature. A natural smell escapes during this, that is not harmful, but strong. Alltogether the smell dissipates after a few weeks.

2. Cleaning

Tatami vacuuming

The tatami mats can be vacuumed with a vacuum cleaner at the lowest level, preferably with the cushion attachment. If it has a few stains, the mats can be carefully wiped partially damp cloth. Afterward, it must be ensured that they can dry completely before you step on them again or put a futon on them...

3. Ventilating

Tatami ventilating

Tatamis themself should get stood upright every half year to air out. If the tatami is used as a base for a futon mattress, the futon should ideally be rolled / folded up daily to allow the moisture that forms at night due to heat and sweat to dry off.

4. Drying

Tatami drying

As soon as the sun shines in spring and the temperature rises, the mats can be placed outside for a few hours to air them. This way the suns uv-light can kill most germs and bacteria on the rice straw mats.

All tips and notes when using tatami underlays for futon as video from Futonwerk

Video: What is my futon on? - Youtube 4:47 min.

The size of tatami mats

Traditionally, the measurements of the tatami are given. In Japan, tatami is even used as a unit of measurement, for example, the size of an apartment is given in tatami units. Tatamis are measured in Ken. Normally a tatami is half a ken wide and one ken long. Although the most common measurement for this is 1.80m, the length of a ken can vary between 155cm and 191cm, depending on the region.

The classic tatami size is therefore 90x180cm. That size is also used to tile the classic tatami-square, made of 4x 90 / 180 cm and 1x 90 / 90 cm, which then forms 2,70 m x 2,70 m.

A tatami-square is naturally also possible with the European measurements: 4x 100 / 200 cm and 1x 100 / 100 cm, forming a 3m x 3m square.

Since the demand for the rice straw mats has also increased in Europe, they are available in more common sizes such as 100 x 200cm, 90 x 200cm, 80 x 200cm, 70 x 200cm, as well as 90 x 180cm and of course 90 x 90cm and 100 x 100cm.

Tatami Square

Square format of a Tatami

Tatami Mats

Tatami Sizes

Oblong format of a Tatami