Feature - Culture

Tatami - Traditional Japanese flooring made from natural "Igusa" rush

The number of modern homes with floorings and carpet keep increasing even in japan and the use of chairs and sofas in daily life has become the norm. With increasing numbers of nuclear families, the number of rooms needed in houses has shrunk. Furthermore, due to the high cost, more and more homes are missing the shoji and Tatami traditional Japanese style room. However, there are many of us that love the feeling when we lay down on Tatami and that unexplainable sense of peace that Tatami's natural aroma gives you. Today, Tatami made products and foldable mats that capture the traditional Japanese essence are available to us all.

Tatami structure and history

First, the Tatami base is made from compressed straw, then the matting woven out of fine 'Igusa' rush is placed on top, stretched out and then the edging is sewn on. In recent years some Tatami are made using various synthetic materials however the structure of original Tatami made from traditional materials is shown below.

Tatami edge cloth (Tatamiheri) is the cloth attached to the Tatami mat edge. There are many colours, patterns and materials. There are also mats with no edge cloth.

Tatami matting (Tatamiomote) is made from weaving high quality 'Igusa' rush grass. One Tatami mat contains between 4000 to 7000 rush grass stems. The rush itself will have a different name and price depending on where it was grown.

Tatami base (Tatamidoko) is made from natural rice straw.

Tatami has been around since the year 710 of the Nara period and it was first used for bedding and for seating cushions that could be folded up and carried around. The word Tatami originates from the verb "to fold". Today's thicker type Tatami first appeared in the Heian period. The way Tatami was used evolved through to the Muromachi period to the Tatami we know today. However, at that time Tatami was not something ordinary folks could own and it wasn't until about the Meiji period that Tatami really spread into ordinary Japanese homes. It is often said "Don't dare step on the Tatami edge cloth". One reason is in many cases the family crest is printed on the edge cloth and stepping on the family crest is insulting. We can see that there is more to Tatami than just flooring, it is something that is unique to Japan and has been handed down over the generations.

A gift from our ancestors, perfectly suited to Japan's climate

It is said Tatami will last many decades if used correctly and looked after. Tatami has been made for centuries using natural materials that are good at absorbing moisture and are difficult to burn. An astonishing feature of Tatami is its ability to absorb moisture from the air, with one standard size mat being able to absorb about 500cc of water!

Tatami's unique features  

・Warm in the winter and cool in the summer
・During arid seasons Tatami has the ability to release its stored moisture back into the air, effectively controlling the room's humidity (humidity control)
・Tatami absorbs carbon dioxide and converts it into low level carbon monoxide purifying the air (air purification)
・Absorbs vibration and noise (sound absorbing)
・Soft enough to absorb impact from falls (relatively elastic)
・Tatami creates a warm friendly atmosphere that brings people together
・The Tatami 'Igusa' aroma has a relaxing effect on people (aromatherapy)
・Tatami has natural anti-bacterial properties that retard the spread of microorganisms and bacteria responsible for producing foot odors and fungal infections.

How to care for Tatami

In order to care for you Tatami you only need to know at least the following: 

•Wiping with a wet sponge is taboo, as the surface gloss will be ruined. With a dry clothe wipe along the weave of the Tatami.
•Using a vacuum cleaner too roughly can damage the Tatami. Use caution to carefully clean the Tatami along the weave.
•Once or twice a year let Tatami dry out in the sun for a while, or air out Tatami to remove moisture inside.
•If the Tatami top surface becomes slightly sun damaged turn over and use the underside.
•To remove impressions in Tatami left from furniture legs, etc., use a hot towel that has been wrung out and place over impression. Gently press a hot iron on the towel then quickly remove and air out the Tatami.

The Size of Tatami mats differ depending on the area

Even today, Tatami is used as a standard measure to represent the size of rooms. The actual size of a 2:1 Tatami mat will differ depending on the place. Modern half size Tatami mats that are square in shape called Ryukyu Tatami are quite popular.

> Kyoma Honma (191cm x 95.5cm) is in Kyoto and Kansai area
> Chukyoma (182cm x 91cm) is mainly in Gifu and Nagoya area. Also in Iwate, Yamagata, Fukushima, Hokuriku and one part of Okinawa.
> Edoma (176cm x 88cm) is mainly in Tokyo and the Kanto area but also many areas spread across Japan.
> Danchima (170cm x 85cm) is used in apartments and townhouses.

Tatami for many generations has been at the center of the Japanese way of life and represents comfortable, peaceful living. Wouldn't it be nice to have Tatami's soft feel and peaceful soothing aroma in our daily lives?

To find out how to get Tatami in Australia visit the Like Japan site.

Kumamoto is where the 'Igusa' rush grass used to make Tatami is grown.

<Kumamoto Prefecture>

Located in the central part of Kyushu it borders Fukuoka, Oita, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima. In March 2011 the new Kyushu bullet train line was officially opened and represented by the popular Kumamon mascot.

- Population: 1.79 million
- Area: 7409.32
- Capital: Kumamoto City
- Australian sister city: Cooma Monaro (NSW) -Yamaga (Kumamoto Prefecture9, Devonport (TAS) - Minamata (Kumamoto Prefecture)

Sightseeing in Kumamoto and local cuisine

Kumamoto castle
One of Japan's big three castles and was built by Lord Kato Kiyomasa. Kumamoto castle is located in the city center and there are many historic sites in and around the castle. You can really experience the old castle town atmosphere.

Suizenji Jojuen Park
Opened around 1636, Suizenji Jojuen Park is one of the main attractions in Kumamoto. The park has spectacular views in all seasons.

Taipiien is the local gourmet cuisine of Kumamoto. This delicious Vermicelli soup with a boiled egg and topped with fried vegetables and seafood can only be found in Kumamoto's Chinese restaurants. Taipiien is so popular it is even served at schools right across Kumamoto Prefecture.

Ikinari Dango
Ikinari Dango literally means "Sudden Dumplings". They are a local sweet made from raw sweet potato sliced into thick circular sections. Sweet red bean paste is spread on the sections and they are wrapped in dough and steamed. The sweet was named Ikinari Dango because it was something that could be easily made by just wrapping sweet potato in dough.

Karashi Renkon
Boiled lotus root stuffed with hot mustard and miso is another local delicacy. It is delicious as a beer snack or side dish.

English website on Kumamoto features.