Futon is the Japanese word for mattress or blanket. What suprised me was that according to Wikipedia, it is now an English word derived from the Japanese word! In the U.S., when one thinks of futon, the image is the futon sofa, a thick mattress that is on a wooden frame that can be converted into a bed. However, for a Japanese person, a futon must be laid directly on the floor.
The Japanese futon has several parts to it.
- Shikibuton: One or sometimes two futon are laid directly on the floor to become the mattress
- Kakebuton: the blanket
- Makura: pillow
The shikibuton: Shiki comes from the word hiku meaning to lay, and when attached to another word, the futon is now pronounced with a b and becomes buton, forming the word shikibuton. The shikibuton can consist of one or two mattresses. It can be one thick one, about 6″ thick or a combination of a thinner mattress laid on top of a foam mattress. Originally, there was only one standard size for a futon, which is about the size of a twin bed, but nowadays, they make double sizes too. However, that being said I would recommend the twin size beds because these futons are traditionally made from cotton and they can get pretty heavy. Today, there are a variety of materials to make futons, that include wool, cotton and synthetics.
Kakebuton: Kakeru is the verb meaning to lay on top, therefore the kakebuton is the blanket. Again, there are a variety of kakebutons and they can range in various thicknesses and materials depending on seasons and temperature needs.
Makura: The makura is the pillow. The traditional ones are quite small in size and are stuffed with buckwheat or beans . As you can imagine it does take a while to get used to such a hard surface if you are more accustomed to a soft pillow. Personally, I find that it lifts the head up too far so it is not really ergonomically friendly. Maybe it is high off the ground because of the fancy hairdos they used to have.
So, these three parts make up the Japanese bed on the floor. There are several advantages to the futon:
- Creates a multi-purpose space because it can be folded away and put in the closet.
- It’s safe. If you roll off the futon, there really isn’t much distance to “fall”, it’s more like you roll down to the floor.
- It’s super comfortable. Overall, the futon is quite a firm mattress since you are directly on the floor with no spring mattress in between. It has just enough cushion to give you a good nights rest.
- Makes a small room feel larger. Because you are on the floor, the room appears larger and it consumes less space.
- The weight of the kakebuton in the winter is very comforting. Not that it’s heavy, but unlike a feather or synthetic blanket, the weight of the cotton feels like it is giving you a little hug. I like that.
- Kids love them because you can’t “break the bed”! My boys would always wrestle on the futons and used them as wrestling mats.
But there are some disadvantages…
- Care: When we sleep we perspire a lot and the cotton absorbs the moisture. Therefore, it is important to air out the shikibutons in the sun, otherwise they can get moldy and heavy. They can also get dusty, so many times you see people hitting their futons on the their balcony.
- For some, putting their bed in their closet and laying it out at night on a daily basis is troublesome. You can’t take a spontaneous nap, unless you make the effort to pull out the bedding!
- Futons are big. You need a fair amount of closet space if you want to put them away during the day.
- If you have difficulty getting up and down from the floor, futons may not be for you.
The best part about the futon is how you sleep. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I think one gets better sleep. It’s seems that the sleep becomes deeper and therefore you are well-rested. This increases your overall health and well-being. Futons are great if space is limited and you need flexibility. It also works well, in small spaces like attics. By just throwing a futon on the floor when the odd visitor drops by, you can guarantee they will have a very restful sleep. So even if you have a small home, you still can be a very accommodating host/hostess!