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Japanese-style futons laid out for sleeping in a ryokan (inn). In green, three shikibutons per bed; in red, turned-back kakebutons. The top two futons in each stack are covered in white fitted sheets, matching the pillowslips.

A futon (布団) is a traditional Japanese style of bedding.

A complete futon set consists of a mattress (敷き布団, shikibuton, lit. "spreading futon") and a duvet (掛け布団, kakebuton, lit. "covering futon").[1] Both elements of a futon bedding set are pliable enough to be folded and stored away in a large closet (押入れ, oshiire) during the day. This allows a room to serve as a bedroom at night, but serve other purposes during the day.[2]

Traditionally, futons are used on tatami, a type of mat used as a flooring material. It also provides a softer base than wooden or stone floors. Futons must be aired regularly to prevent mold from developing, and to keep the futon free of mites. Throughout Japan, futons can commonly be seen hanging over balconies, airing in the sun.[3] Futon dryers may be used by those unable to hang out their futon.

History and materials[edit]

Before recycled cotton cloth was widely available in Japan, commoners used kami busuma, stitched crinkled paper stuffed with fibers from beaten dry straw, cattails, or silk waste, on mushiro straw floor mats. Later, futons were made with patchwork recycled cotton, quilted together and filled with bast fiber.[4] Later they were filled with cotton. Wool and synthetics are now also used.[5]

Yogi (よぎ, literally "nightclothes") are kimono-shaped bedclothes. They were used in the 1800s and early 1900s.[6] Rectangular kakebutons are now widely used. Kakebutons vary in materials; some are warmer than others. Those with traditional cotton filling feel heavier than those with feather or synthetic fillings.[5]

Traditional makura (まくら) are generally firmer than western pillows.[5] They may be filled with beans, buckwheat chaff,[5][7] bran,[8] or, modernly, plastic beads,[5][7] all of which mold to the head. Historically, some women used wooden headrests to protect their hairstyles.[6]


Futons are traditionally laid on tatami rush mats,[7] which are resilient and can absorb and re-release up to half a liter of moisture each.[9] Tatamis measure 1 by 0.5 ken, just under 1 by 2 meters,[10] the same size as a Western twin bed. A traditional shikibuton is also about the size of a Western twin bed. As of 2010, double-bed-sized shikibutons were available, but they can be a bit heavy and awkward to stow.[5]

The shikibuton is usually 2–3 inches (5–8 cm) thick,[7] and rarely as much as 6 inches (15 cm) thick; they need to dry well, or they will become heavy and mouldy.[5] A shikibuton is thus about as thick as a Western mattress topper.[11] If more thickness is needed, shikibutons are layered.[5]

Kakebutons may be wider than shikibutons,[12] and they vary in thickness. Depending on the weather, they may be layered with a warm mōfu (毛布), or replaced with a lighter taoruketto (タオルケット).[7]

The traditional makura is usually smaller than a western pillow.[5]

Western-style futons[edit]

In the 1980s, futons became fashionable in North America.[13] The construction method was similar to that of contemporary Japanese futons: cotton batting, covered in cotton ticking and held in place with hand-sewn tufting (through-thickness stitches).[13] This was also the structure that had been used in the United States' 1940-1941 Cotton Mattress Program, designed to use excess cotton production by subsidizing materials for people to make their own cotton mattresses.[14][15]

However, Western-style futons, which typically resemble low, wooden sofa beds, differ considerably from their Japanese counterparts.[1][16] They often have the dimensions of standard western mattresses, and are too thick to fold double and stow easily in a cupboard. They are often set up and stored on a slatted frame,[13] which avoids having to move them to air regularly, especially in the dry indoor air of a centrally-heated house[17] (most Japanese homes were not traditionally centrally-heated[18]).

Futon-like traditional European beds[edit]

Traditional European beds resembled Japanese-style futon sets, with thin tick mattresses. These were only sometimes set on a bedframe. The term "bed" did not originally include the bedframe, but only the bedding, the same components included in a Japanese futon set.[19]: 674–5 vol1 

It was also traditional to air these beds, and duvets are still aired in the window in Europe. In English-speaking cultures, however, airing bedding outdoors came to be seen as a foreign practice, with 19th-century housekeeping manuals giving methods of airing beds inside, and disparaging airing them in the window as "German-style".[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Evans, Toshie M. (1997). A dictionary of Japanese loanwords. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313287414. OCLC 528863578.
  2. ^ Glaskin, Katie; Chenhall, Richard, eds. (2013). Sleep around the world : anthropological perspectives (1st ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1137315731. OCLC 854835429.
  3. ^ Otowa, Rebecca (2010). At home in Japan : a foreign woman's journey of discovery (1st ed.). Tokyo: Tuttle Pub. ISBN 978-1462900008. OCLC 742512720.
  4. ^ Wada, Yoshiko (2004-01-01). Boro no Bi : Beauty in Humility—Repaired Cotton Rags of Old Japan. Textile Society of America Symposium Proceedings.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Hones, Jenny Nakao. "The Pros and Cons of the Japanese Futon – Asian Lifestyle Design". Asian Lifestyle Design. Retrieved 23 January 2022.
  6. ^ a b c Inouye, Jukichi (1910) [digitized July 2021]. "11". Home Life in Tokyo. In Japanese houses there are, as has been already stated, no rooms exclusively set apart for sleeping. The beds can be laid anywhere on the mats. The bed consists of one or two thickly-wadded mattresses of cotton or silk, usually three feet wide by about six feet long, that is, nearly the size of a mat. These are laid on the mats and over them a large, thickly-wadded cover of the shape of a winter kimono with open sleeves and a quilt, also heavily wadded, of about the same length as the bed but wider. They are both of silk or cotton, figured or striped, with linings of a dark-blue colour. They both have a black velvet band where the sleeper's face touches them. The two are used in winter; but in spring and autumn only one, usually the kimono-like cover, is thrown over the sleeper. In midsummer, even that is too hot, and is replaced by an ordinary lined kimono or a thinly-wadded quilt. The pillow for men is a long round bolster filled with bran; but women, whose coiffure would be deranged by such a pillow, lay their heads on a small bran bolster, two inches or so in diameter, which is wrapped in paper and tied on the top of a wooden support. It is very uncomfortable at first, though most women are used to it. As the bolster soon gets hard, the skin about the ear often becomes red and rough if one sleeps all night on the same side. Though the beds may be spread anywhere, their places are always fixed for the members of the family. The master and mistress sleep in the parlour or some other large room with the youngest children, the mother with the baby in her bed and the father sometimes with the next youngest in his. The rest of the children sleep either in the same room or in another and with some other member of the family, unless they are quite grown up. The sitting-room is usually left unoccupied. The servants sleep in a room next to the kitchen and the house-boy in the porch. It is important to group the sleepers as much as possible; for in summer when mosquitoes are out, nets are hung over the beds by strings attached to the four corners of the room, and to economise these nets the beds are brought together wherever practicable.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Futons- Overview and Brief History of styles". Archived from the original on 5 March 2023. Retrieved 23 January 2022.
  8. ^ File:THE FAMILY IN BED. (1910) - illustration - page 137.png
  9. ^ "Traditional Japanese Houses". nippon.com. 23 July 2016. Retrieved 23 January 2022.
  10. ^ See Tatami#Size for details
  11. ^ "Mattress Topper Types - Materials, Thickness, Density". Mattress Nut. 9 January 2021. Retrieved 23 January 2022.
  12. ^ "FAQs – Futons From Japan".
  13. ^ a b c Littman, Karel Joyce (27 September 1984). "FUTON MATTRESSES: WHAT AND WHERE". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 January 2022.
  14. ^ Dean, Virgil W.; Powers, Ramon (2014). ""In No Way a Relief Set Up": The County Cotton Mattress Program in Kansas, 1940–1941" (PDF). {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  15. ^ "Make a Mattress With Free Cotton". Wallace's Farmer. Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections. 28 December 1940.
  16. ^ Cole, David John; Browning, Eve; Schroeder, Fred E. H. (2002). Encyclopedia of modern everyday inventions. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313313458. OCLC 49627783.
  17. ^ See Airing (air circulation)
  18. ^ Nute, Kevin (2004). Place, time, and being in Japanese architecture. London: Routledge. ISBN 0419240101. OCLC 53006895.
  19. ^ Dictionnaire de l'ameublement et de la décoration depuis le XIIIe siècle jusqu'à nos jours, Havard, Henry, 1838-1921
  20. ^ "Featherbeds, duvets, eiderdowns, feather ticks - history". www.oldandinteresting.com. 2006.