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Futons Are a Reflection of Japanese Culture

Mar 5, 2008
One of the most flexible and portable sleep surfaces in the world is the futon. Originating in Japan, the futon has become a popular alternative to the traditional western mattress. The Japanese have long developed ingenious ways to maximize available space and the futon is a perfect example.

To understand why the development of the futon is so important, we must first put Japan in the proper context. Japan is an island country that has a scarcity of available land. Space has always been limited, especially now. Today Japan has a population of approximately one hundred and twenty seven million living in an area slightly smaller than California. To really put things in perspective, California has a population of around thirty four million. So it no wonder that the Japanese have attached such a priority to the efficient use of space.

The traditional Japanese household is quite small by western standards. Where the average American home might measure more than two thousand square feet, the average Japanese home might be only one third the space. Rooms may have multiple uses, a living becomes a bedroom, becomes a dining room.

In addition to limitations on physical living space, Japan has very little arable land for the cultivation of crops. Crops like cotton need a great deal of space per plant. So materials available for the production of fabric are not very abundant and must be used in the most efficient way possible. These limitations have been overcome by the cultural discipline exercised by the Japanese.

Shikibuton is Japanese for a bed that most of us know as the futon. The shikibuton is a thin mattress, usually no more than four or five inches thick. Cotton is the traditional material used the batting or stuffing of the shikibuton. There is no foam or spring material used. The batting gives the mattress a very stiff and solid feel. The traditional use of a shikibuton includes a rug that placed on the floor under the mattress. When not in use, the shikibuton would be rolled up and stored until it needed again. This allowed the sleeping space to be used for other purposes.

It is rare in Japan to find a futon used with any type of bifold or trifold frame. More common might be the use of a simple, raised wooded platform.

The introduction of the futon to the West has been a roaring success. What really made the futon popular in American was the introduction of bifold and trifold frames. The frames add an element of flexibility to Western style to the simple futon mattress. An alternative to the daybed and the sleeper sofa, the combination of a futon mattress and a frame provides both a place to sit and a place to sleep.

The standard sizes for a futon and frame combination is roughly equal to a full sized mattress, about seventy five by eighty inches. Like the shikibuton, the futon can be converted into a place to sit during the day and converted to a bed at night. American made futons have taken the Japanese version a few steps further. Cotton batting, though still common, has been augmented by the addition of various types of foam. Another western innovation is the innerspring futon. Similar to a traditional innerspring mattress, the innerspring futon feels more like a regular mattress. When used as a sitting surface, the innerspring feels more like a couch.

Now many people prefer the feel of a traditional shikibuton, which is very firm. Innovations like springs and foam battings have opened up the futon market to more people. Futon frames have gone from simple metal affairs to very sturdy and attractive wood frames.
About the Author
Mitch Endick is a staff writer for the quality online store FineWebStores.com.
Shop for Futons and Frames for your home. Please visit FineWebStores.com today.
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