13 Facts You Probably Didn't Know About Tatami
Tatami mats are a traditional flooring unique to Japan. Here are 13 facts about these mats to enlighten you the next time you enter a room of Tatami.
Jul 09 2015 (Apr 16 2019)
1. Tatami is a traditional flooring used in Japan.
It's made out of rush and cloth. The rush is woven in, and the cloth is used to cover the woven ends. The traditional Japanese room, Washitsu (和室), always has Tatami as flooring. New Tatami mats are green, but as they grow older, they become yellow.
2. Tatami is made by machines.
As stated above, rush is woven in. Kumamoto, Hiroshima, Okayama, Fukuoka, and Kouchi are famous for growing the ingredient, rush, or Igusa (イグサ) in Japanese. To make one Tatami mat, 4000 to 7000 rush are used. Machines do 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: the one with a 2:1 aspect ratio, and another that is a half that size. Tatami mats are made to fit the room, not the other way round. So there is a standard size, but there are also other sizes.
4. There are 4 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 comes from piling up straw.
Tatami mats became more like the ones today in the Heian period. The pile of straw became thicker, and the number of sizes became standard. By the Muromachi period, with the introduction of architecture called Shoindukuri (書院造), which is shown in the image, the rooms were all spread with Tatami mats. By the Edo period, Tatami mats became popular that there had to be a job where you are charge of Tatami mats only when building houses and castles.
6. The 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. They wrap a cloth 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 2 ways on 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.
9. There are Tatami mats specifically used for Judo.
Thy are called Judo Tatami (柔道畳). They don't use rush, but 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 by vacuum, 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 sprouting 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 would 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.
Cross-legged is considered more casual. Seiza (正座) is the most formal way to sit in Japan. You bend your legs and sit on them, with your feet crossed under your bottom.
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.