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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"). Both elements of a futon bedding set are pliable enough to be aired, folded and stored away in a large closet (押入れ, oshiire) during the day allowing the room to serve for purposes other than as a bedroom.
Traditionally, futons are used on tatami, a type of mat used as a flooring material which also provides a softer base for the futon than most harder flooring types, such as wood or stone. Futons must be folded away daily and aired in the sun regularly to prevent mold from developing and also to keep the futon free of mites. Throughout Japan, futons can commonly be seen hanging over balconies airing in the sun. A futon dryer is also available for those unable to hang out their futon.
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.
Western-style futons, which typically resemble low, wooden sofa beds, differ substantially from their Japanese counterparts. They often have the dimensions of a western mattress, and are too thick to fold. They are often set up and stored on a slatted frame, which avoids having to move them to air regularly, especially in the dry indoor air of a centrally-heated house (Japanese homes were not traditionally centrally-heated).
- Day bed (bed used for other purposes during the day)
- Ken (unit on which houses are traditionally built)
- Washitsu (the type of rooms in which futons are frequently used)
- Zabuton (sitting futon, a smaller cushion)
- Boroboroton, a spirit-possessed boroboro futon
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