13 Facts You Probably Didn't Know About Tatami
Tatami mats are a traditional flooring unique to Japan. Made with woven straw, these mats are a key element of traditional Japanese architecture. While today, modern homes use a range of flooring types, many homes will have at least one tatami area that can be used as a sitting room or as a bedroom by spreading out a tatami mattress called a futon. Whether at a temple, restaurant, or inn, you'll likely encounter some tatami mat rooms during your travels. Here are 13 facts about tatami mats to enlighten you the next time you enter a traditional Japanese room.
Jul 09 2015 (Jun 07 2021)
1. Tatami is a traditional flooring used in Japan
Tatami mats are made from rush and cloth. The rush is woven in, and cloth is used to cover the woven ends. A traditional Japanese room, or washitsu (和室), always uses tatami as flooring. New tatami mats are green, but as they grow older, they become yellow.
2. Modern tatami is made by machines
Kumamoto, Hiroshima, Okayama, Fukuoka, and Kouchi are famous for growing the rush, or igusa (イグサ) the mats are woven from. To make one tatami mat, 4000 to 7000 pieces of rush are used. Today, machines can complete the weaving process in about a hour and half.
3. The standard tatami mat is about 910mm x 1820 mm
The standard tatami mat also has 2 different types: a type with a 2:1 ratio, and another that is a half that size. Tatami mats are made to fit the room, not the other way round. So while there is a standard size, this is not the only option.
4. There are four standard tatami sizes
Normally, tatami mats are ordered to fit the room size. Besides that, there are 4 standard sizes; Kyouma (京間), Chuukyouma (中京間), Edoma (江戸間), and Danchima (団地間).
5. The origin of tatami mats comes from piling up straw
The origins of the type of tatami mats used today began in the Heian period. The pile of straw became thicker, and the number of sizes became standarized. By the Muromachi period, with the introduction of architecture called shoindukuri (書院造), which is shown in the image, the rooms were all floored with tatami mats. By the Edo period, tatami mats were a key part of Japanese architecture. You'll even find a tatami mat Starbucks in Japan today!
6. Tatami mats consist of 3 parts
The tatami-doko (畳床) is the inside of the tatami. Traditionally it was filled with compressed rice straw, but due to the hardness of getting rice straw and bug problems, they changed this to compressed wood chips or styrene form.
The tatami-omote (畳表) is the surface of the tatami. It is woven dried rush woven in finely. They use hemp or cotton yarn as weaving warp.
The tatami-fuchi (畳縁) is the edge of the tatami mat. Cloth is wrapped around the end of the tatami mat to hide the ends of the woven area. The image above is an example of different tatami-fuchi patterns.
7. There are two ways of placing tatami mats
Shyugi Shiki (祝儀敷き) is the most popular way done in normal households. The Tatami mats are placed in a way that the 4 corners of the Tatami don't gather in one spot.
Fushyugi Shiki (不祝儀敷き) is used for unlucky events such as funerals. It is a custom in order to avoid the bad luck.
8. There are Tatami mats specifically used in houses with Western types of rooms.
They're called either Unit Tatami (ユニット畳) or Oki Tatami (置き畳). They're rectangular and used in households that have western types of rooms with hardwood flooring. They are placed on the hardwood flooring.
November 2020 Update:
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9. There are tatami mats specifically used for Judo
Thy are called Judo Tatami (柔道畳). They are not made of rush, but rather a sheet of polymer with a rough surface that resembles a real tatami mat. Therefore, even with the active Judo moves, the tatami doesn't collect dust or get damaged.
10. Cleaning tatami mats can be done with vacuums, specialized floor mops, or a piece of cloth
Tatami mats are extremely weak to humidity. If you leave a tatami mat in a humid environment, it'll start growing mold. To avoid this, daily cleaning can be done by vacuums with a specialized tatami mode, or special floor mops. For thorough cleaning, a dry piece of cloth would do the job. Above all of this, cleaning must be done in the same direction that the rush is woven in.
If the Tatami mat is beyond cleaning and is yellowing, the tatami mat would be reversed, or changed into a new one. The average tatami mat life span is around 5 to 6 years.
11. Never go into a tatami room with your shoes on
It is customary to remove your shoes in Japan when entering a room with hardwood flooring or tatami mats. Shoes are a big no-no for tatami mats, since they damage the woven rush.
12. There are many households with both Western type of hardwood flooring rooms and Japanese style rooms nowadays
It is like a fusion of modern and old Japan in one house. Some people prefer sleeping on tatami mats with futons, rather than beds on hardwood floors. Some people use the Japanese style rooms for guests.
13. Sitting on tatami mats requires either cross-legged or seiza.
In a tatami sitting room, there are certain ways to sit that are considered good manners, for example when guests are visiting. Cross-legged is considered more casual. Seiza (正座) is the most formal way to sit on tatami mats. You bend your legs and sit on them, with your feet crossed under your bottom.
See Japanese tatami mats for yourself!
If you're interested in Japanese architecture, we have information about Japan's charming kominka in our article, Simple Yet Beautiful: Japan's Traditional Homes, Kominka.
You'll likely have a chance to sit and enjoy tatami mats while you're in Japan. If you stay in a Japanese inn, or ryokan, you can even sleep on a type of tatami matress called a futon. Visit our roundup of the 20 Best Japanese Ryokan Inns for a Blissful Stay in Kyoto for a way to incorporate an experience of this unique part of Japanese culture into your trip!
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.