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:
- The traditional futon placed on a tatami mat floor.
- 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.
- 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.