Tatamis - the symbol for the Japanese style of living

In ancient and rural Japan, tatamis are used as flooring in traditionally designed rooms, the so-called washitsu. Tatamis are insulating and cushioning mats made of rice straw. Since a tatami mat is quite sensitive, it is only used barefoot or with socks.

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).

Tatami-mats as floor

Tatami - An example of a classic floor covering in traditional Japanese houses

Since tatami mats are made of natural materials only, they smell accordingly and can be recycled. The simplicity and aesthetics of tatami mats, together with the typical Japanese Shoji sliding walls, create a very special charm in your home. If you have ever been allowed to walk on an original tatami mat, you have certainly noticed the pleasant surface texture. It is not for nothing that the natural rice straw mats have been popular as a floor covering in Japanese houses for a long time. They create a pleasant room climate, insulate in winter when temperatures are low, and cool pleasantly when it is warmer.

Tatami rice straw mat details

What is the composition of a tatami mat?

Tatami rice straw mat cross-section


Futonwerk on Youtube - tatami

Tatami mats consist of three components. For centuries, the production of these floor mats has been done in three steps.

  • 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.
  • Next, a rush mat tied from Igusa grass is wrapped around the rice straw core, the so-called Tatami-Omote.
  • Afterward, the edges of the tatami mat are bordered with a textile band, which is called Tatami-Beri bezeichnet.

Nowadays, for cost reasons, the core is often alternatively made of a rice-straw-foam mixture

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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.

Tatami Square

Tatami Sizes

Tatami Mats

The use of tatamis

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.

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.

At home, tatamis are the perfect complement to a futon. To use tatamis as a base for a futon, they can either be placed directly on the floor, or in a special tatami frame. If one wishes to use tatamis as a floor mat under the futon bed, the futon should be made of cotton or virgin sheep's wool. If a tatami frame is used, close attention should be paid to ensure that the tatami mat lies evenly and smoothly, and that it does not lie too deep in the frame with the futon, to be able to ensure good ventilation of the futon.

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.

A tatami mat is usually 4.5 cm thick (standard pressing) or 5.5 cm (HQ/High Quality). There are also thinner mats in the trade, which are correspondingly cheaper, but also not as durable.

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.

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tatamis with futon

Tatami mat with "Twin Futon"

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.

  • 1. If the tatami is used as a base for a futon mattress, the futon should ideally be rolled up daily to allow the moisture that forms at night due to heat and sweat to dry off.

  • 2. The tatami mats can be vacuumed at the lowest level with a vacuum cleaner, preferably with the cushion attachment. It may happen that foxing or mold spots will form on the mats if they are laid in a room where condensation moisture builds up. This is often the case in basement apartments or if ventilation is not carried out frequently enough.

  • 3. If some mold has formed, the mats can be carefully wiped damp. Afterward, it must be ensured that they can dry completely before you step on them again or put a futon on them...

  • 4. 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.

  • 5. Since tatamis are made in China and therefore have a long journey, being well-packed, the tatami mats need a few days to air out after unpacking, preferably at room temperature.

What should one look out for when using tatami?

Tatami-mats are products made from natural materials, meaning 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 over with shoes. If they are used as flooring one should also consider this for interior design. For the sake of the tatamis lifespan, one should forgo furniture that is moved often, like chairs around a dinner table.

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.

Tatami underneath a futon serve only a visual purpose, separating the sleeping area and protecting the futon from grime. It has no baring on comfort.

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