Sleeping tight: bed options in Japan

July 10th, 2013By Category: Uncategorized


When I moved to Japan, the one item I made no attempt to bring with me was my bed.

This was not in fact because I thought my new life would be too exciting for sleep, but because there was no way my Florida-bought queen-sized mattress would fit into my Japanese apartment. At least, not without blocking the bathroom door which brought the decision down to either selling the bed, or losing a kidney. Since the rest of my belongings would take three months to ship, selling up also meant I didn’t have to attempt to kip on the one kitchen stool I’d bought to change a light bulb.

My purchasing forays uncovered that there are three different types of bed in Japan:

  1. The traditional futon placed on a tatami mat floor.
  2. The western-style bed with frame and mattress. This is actually very common in Japan and almost all of my friends sleep on such a bed.
  3. A hybrid-option, whereby you have a bed frame with a solid tatami mat top surface on which you place a futon.

My apartment does not have any tatami mats, being pseudo-wood flooring throughout. I’m not sure if this is more common in newer city apartments or if the fact I needed a pet-friendly place precluded tatami on the floors. Despite this, I was reluctant to buy a normal western bed. For a start, I might not find a mattress I liked as much as my old one, which would lead to sad disappointment at the end of each and every day. Secondly, I was IN JAPAN! It was exciting, new and I wanted to integrate by sleeping on a futon!

… Even if no one else was.

I therefore went for option (3) and, after some careful measuring, purchased a ‘semi-double’ tatami mat bed. A semi-double is inbetween a single and double bed in size, with a width of 124 cm (49 inches). It is often the size newly wed Japanese couples buy, before they can afford a double bed. It is pretty great for one girl and a cat, depending slightly on the mood of the cat.

Now with the bed frame, I went looking at futons. The Japanese futon is somewhat different from its western counterpart with the same name. The term ‘futon’ refers to both the foam pad underneath you (the ‘shiki futon’) and the blanket on top (the ‘kakebuton’). The kakebuton is a down (or synthetic equivalent) filled bag that would be called a ‘duvet’ in the UK while in America… well, I’m going to go with ‘comforter’ and you’ll have to live with the fact that this just isn’t the same awesome cloud of kakebuton softness. The shiki futon is thinner than a western futon and can easily be folded into three parts for storage. Futons are often sold as a set containing both parts, although it is also easy to find them separately.

An advantage of opting for the tatami mat bed over a straight futon was that I could have drawers underneath the bed for extra storage. I ordered the bed from ‘Nitori’, Japanese chain very similar to Ikea. When my bed was delivered, the men assembled the frame but not the drawer set. Upon asking why, I received a monologue in Japanese until I decided I would just go and buy a screwdriver. As any Ikea fan will not be surprised to learn, I had to assemble the drawers twice; the first attempt having a key early panel placed backwards.

As a final touch, I purchased a Japanese style pillow which is filled with beans rather than feathers. It’s a slightly odd sensation to lie on but it’s not uncomfortable. I quite like rolling around on it as a DIY scalp massage. I confess though, that when my feathery pillows arrived from Canada, I did switch them over and leave beany pillow as the optional extra.

I’ve now been sleeping on my tatami mat bed for 18 months and –as anyone who has witnessed my late arrival into work on a morning will testify– I have no regrets. An added bonus is the ability to drag the futon around the apartment in summer to hunt out the coolest spots to sleep. Although as the humidity ramps up, I’m beginning to think the bed was a bad idea period, and a lilo under the shower might be the best option.

Author of this article

Elizabeth Tasker

Elizabeth is a science researcher living in Sapporo on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. Originally from the UK, Elizabeth keeps her own blog about day to day exploits in the hope that writing them down will result in them one day making sense.

Related articles that may interest you


  • Betty Jung says:

    I love shiki futon.I travel to Japan several time and quite have a good experience of sleep well on shiki futon which place on Tatami .J-life website didn’t ship to my country.I don”t know where to buy in Japan.Muji store has futon which are not pure cotton,it is small percentage polyester mixed which is not green futon.

  • Cindy Nielsen says:

    Thanks for your interesting account of trying a different style of bed than you were used to, Elizabeth. It was really fun to read, and made me want to get rid of my huge ensemble bed as soon as possible. I found an authentic Japanese bedding store online in Australia (and in my home state) who sell the bed frames, tatami mats and futons, so I’m going to change over to the Japanese way of sleeping. I don’t want just the tatami mat and futon on the floor, because of the humidity here. Or is that why the tatami mat has the waterproof fabric underside – so the futon doesn’t get mildew on it?

  • Elizabeth says:

    The drawers are great! Squeezing extract storage space into my apartment is a complete win win.

  • Ai says:

    I had no idea hybrid beds existed, or I would have bought one (look at that storage underneath!)

  • Elizabeth says:

    Thank you! I’m really pleased you enjoyed it.

  • timba says:

    I didn’t know a post about looking for and choosing a bed can be interesting. And yours definitely was. I will check later your other posts. Nice style of narration. 🙂