Whether you’re short on space or looking to maximise the functionality of a bedroom or living room, there’s little that comes close to a futon. At least with regards to increasing your home’s sleeping capacity.
Not only are Japanese futons incredibly comfortable, stylish and affordable as a sofa, but they’re also just as capable as sleep surfaces for your guests.
Depending on your needs, a futon will either add a new seating and relaxation zone in your home, or a sleeping area for friends, family or yourself. All you’ll need to do is fold the futon flat and you’re good to go, no need to de-pillow the sofa and pull out the bed.
That said, let Sleepify give you a look at what you need to know about Japanese futons and why you should consider one for your home.
The Two Types of Futons
If you’ve taken a look online, you’ll know there are two common types of futons that will appear; the Japanese Futon and the Traditional Futon. Although both do share the same name, they are quite different from one another.
The Japanese Futon
To start, the Japanese futon is simply a flat fabric sheet or pillow. Rather than having a bulky frame and sofa-like design, these futons are more of a sleep surface mat that you can unroll and lay on the floor for your guests.
They’re known as Shikibuton’s in Japan, and are one of the more minimal approaches when it comes to creating a good sleeping zone in the house.
One final thing to note is that they’re ultra-easy to store and in Western homes, they’re generally not left out. You’ll roll up the futon and store it in a wardrobe or cupboard when you’re not using it — whereas the Westernised sofa-style futons stay out at all times.
The Traditional Futon
When you head into your local retailers, you’ll see that a futon is general a sofa that is designed in two parts. The flat side and the vertical side that acts as a back rest. When you need to convert this into a bed, you simply flatten out the futon and it becomes a horizontal surface you can use for sleeping.
Of course, this may offer a better sleep surface than a typical Japanese futon, though, it will require you to keep the futon out and in use at all times — it can’t just be folded up and stored in the cupboard for example.
These futons are also typically a little more expensive too, as they’re a fully-fledged interior furniture piece rather than just a sleeping ‘mat.’
What is a Japanese Futon
Getting into the specifics, a Japanese futon is a foldable or rollable sheet of slim, and rectangular cushion that is thick enough to offer plenty of back support when sleeping, though not too thick that it becomes a mattress.
All of these Japanese futons are generally three to four inches in depth, which means they’re not going to offer the best support, though it’s certainly better than nothing.
The vast majority of futons today are filled with cotton infill, though, the more expensive options do come with memory foam and other visco elastic internals to offer an optimal, supportive sleep surface.
There are a range of sizes too, which means you’ll be able to find a futon that suits the size of your sleepers no trouble at all. The common sizes are around a king single to a double, though there are larger sizes reaching up to Queens should you need these.
When it comes to competing with the futon couch, these Japanese futons can sometimes be folded halfway to create the sofa shape that enables everyone to sit on it and use it as a lounge too. However, this is a relatively rare feature.
When you’re finished using a Japanese futon, you’ll be able to roll it up or have it folded up neatly and stored anywhere from your wardrobe to underneath your bed as they are quite thin.
To end, these futons are generally placed upon a Tatami Mat rather than the floor, for both practicality reasons and hygiene too.
One thing to note; Japanese futons do require some sort of base material or mat below them when in use as they will collect and retain heat and moisture otherwise. That said, before you let your guests get some shut-eye, be sure to put down a mat or ventilated material below your futon.
What is The Tatami Mat
As we mentioned above, it’s important to place your Japanese futon on something, and that ‘something’ is a Tatami Mat in many cases.
To keep things simple, these Tatami Mats were essentially woven reeds or grasses in the past, and were used to keep the futons ventilated and above the floor itself — making it easier to keep the futons clean.
It’s also good to note that the mat is the best way to add a little extra height and depth to the futon, making it an even better experience for your sleeping guests.
Back to the Tatami Mat, these materials are now generally rubber or foam that is open-cell and well-ventilated. You’ll set your Japanese futon down atop this mat and it will help to draw moisture and heat out of the futon. This is imperative as it will ensure optimal hygiene and also help you get the most out of your futon.
One good thing to note is that you’re able to use the Tatami Mat for more than just your futon, such as a floor rug or covering. They’re generally quite soft and work well in living rooms, so when it comes time to pack up the futon you won’t need to roll up the mat too.
What are Japanese Futons Made Of
When it comes to the inner fill inside these futons, as we mentioned above, they are generally cotton infill. For those who have ever slept on an all-cotton sleep surface, you’ll know it’s ultra-plush but not that supportive.
It’s good to keep in mind, however, that Japanese futons are set down on the floor and the Tatami Mat and this is where a majority of your back support will come from.
Keeping the infill secured in place, there is typically a case or cover that is zipped around, which is also made of cotton or sometimes duck weave, which is an ultra-dense cotton fibre or linen. These are both great materials as they’re ventilated but also durable, which is ideal for sleeping surfaces you’ll throw down on the floor.
When it comes to more modern futons, you will have the option of selecting a model that is made of foam, memory foam and even latex — depending on where you’re shopping. That said, you’ll be able to ensure your guests get a little more comfort when visiting and sleeping on your futon.
Reviewers have stated, though, that futons with memory foam interiors don’t offer that authentic feeling of a futon and may lack the support of a traditional Shikibuton.
You’ll also find it a little harder to roll and store a memory foam futon when compared to a cotton variant.
Where To Buy Japanese Futons
Although Japanese futons are a relatively niche product, the internet has you covered here and you’ll find a tonne of resellers and speciality bedding outlets selling these models.
Take a look online or make your way to a traditional Japanese bedding store and you’ll certainly be in luck.
For the more modern and Western variants, you can take a look at Sleepify’s list of the best Japanese futons and use these brands and products to help guide your search. All of the models we listed are fantastic with regards to quality, comfort and sleeping experience.
To end, always be on the lookout for ‘fake’ Shikibuton’s or traditional Japanese futons which often come with rather high price tags, but a sleeping experience that is rather lacklustre.
You can spot a fake Japanese futon by looking at the material makeup; if you see innersprings, memory foam and latex, these models aren’t the traditional models we talked about above. They are good as a standalone mattress for infrequent use, however.
In all, to buy a Japanese futon, look for a local reseller of Japanese products and work to find a model that offers the materials and experience we outlined above. If that doesn’t work out for you — take a look online or order right from Japan.
Looking After Your Japanese Futon
Now that you’re on track to getting a new Japanese futon, it’s important to know how to take care of it. These aren’t typical mattresses and there are a few things you’ll need to do to make sure you’re damaging or reducing the back support in the futon.
To kick things off, you’ll always want to have your futon either folded or rolled up when it’s not in use, and stored in a dry cupboard space. If you’re not doing this, you’re increasing the risk of the futon either getting infiltrated by bacteria on your floor along with both mould and dust mites.
There will generally be specific directions outlined on your futon’s packaging too, so make sure to take a look at these. They will let you know any requirements for that particular model.
As we spoke about above, a Tatami Mat is somewhat of an essential. This isn’t an optional item for a futon, you really do need to have one to keep the futon in good order. The mat should also be flipped and rotated with use, to ensure you’re not creating divots and sagging spots over time.
When it comes to the floor space you’re using the futon on, be sure to keep the space well-tidied and free of anything that can add moisture, dust or stains to the futon. If moisture does penetrate the futon, you might see mould growth spread throughout the entire product.
To end, you will need to keep the futon aired out and ventilated whenever you can. That means, taking it outside and letting the sun and wind get into it to help dry out any minor damp spots and to kill any UV-sensitive bacteria.
We suggest airing and sunning the futon at least on a monthly basis whether you’re using it or not. Doing this each week is most optimal though.
In all, if you’re someone who has been on the search for a sleep surface but doesn’t have the space or the budget for a full-fledged bed frame and mattress, then a futon is certainly something we’d recommend for you.
These ‘beds’ are eco-friendly as well as a great investment for those who have guests on a routine basis and need just a simple, comfortable and affordable sleeping product to keep your family and friends happy when they stay the night.
The materials in the futons are durable, breathable and comfortable so there’s no chance of an uncomfortable heat sink at nighttime. And the great, compact and foldable design means there’s always going to be a space in your apartment or home to store the futon when you’re not using it.
These sleep surfaces are also easy to keep clean and safe to use, and can even be left out permanently for you to use as a comfortable and relaxing lounge space — without needing to invest in a new sofa.
With all of that said, we hope you learned a little more about Japanese Futons and can move forward with your new purchase.
Take a look at Sleepify’s list of the best Japanese futons to help guide your search for the perfect futon for your living room or guest bedroom.