A Japanese room with traditional mats.
Tatami mats have been a common feature in Japanese households for many centuries – and the same still applies to this day. But not many Westerners know a lot about these beautiful traditional Japanese mats, which is why we will explain what they are, how they came about, and why they are still so popular. We’ll also recommend some of the best tatami mats you can buy and show you how to take care of them.
- What is a tatami mat and how did it originate?
- What are they made of?
- How big is a tatami mat?
- Standard tatami mat size in Tokyo
- Standard tatami mat size in Nagoya
- Standard tatami mat size in Kyoto
- The benefits
- Tatami mats for sale
- Tatami mat care tips
What is a tatami mat and how did it originate?
The tatami mat originated during the Heian Period (794-1185). It was a time when wooden, or sometimes even dirt floors, were common. At first, these mats were luxury items because sitting on them as opposed to sitting on uncomfortable wooden or dirt floors, was strictly reserved for the nobility class. But when the Kamakura Period (1185–1333) came around, the priest class and samurai warriors gained power and these mats became a common feature in their homes too.
Up until this point, tatami mats were for the wealthy, the priest, and the warrior class, and used to indicate rank during religious and tea ceremonies. But by the Muromachi Period (1336 to 1573), they started to cover entire rooms and therefore became more common and accessible. However, it wouldn’t be until the late 1600s that these mats started to become a normal feature in the homes of commoners.
Today, they can still be found in homes across Japan, various other Japanese places such as ryokans and martial arts studios – although the ones used for martial arts such as Judo and Karate are known as Judo tatami and differ from the regular ones because they are covered entirely in polymer as opposed to rush grass since polymer is a far more durable material that can take abuse.
What are tatami mats made of?
A Japanese couple sitting on tatami mats.
The way tatami mats are made today differs considerably compared to how they were made centuries ago. Before, needless to say, they were made entirely by hand, but today they are made by machine.
A mat is made up of different parts – with each part consisting of a different material.
The top section has always been made from Igusa (rush grass), which is essential for its softness, while the filling used to be compressed rice straw, but it would harden over time and attract bugs, which is why today they use either polystyrene foam or wood chipboards. Today, the bottom parts are typically made from non-woven fabric.
Before, they didn’t have borders, but today many of them do and these borders are made from kiln-dried pine or fabric such as polyester, hemp, or cotton.
How big is a tatami mat?
They come in various sizes and are usually twice as long as they are wide. There is a standard size which is around 910mm x 1820mm, but it’s also important to remember that these standard sizes differ depending on where in Japan you are.
The three different standard tatami sizes in Japan.
Standard size in Tokyo: 880mm x 1.76m.
Standard size in Nagoya: 910mm x 1.82m.
Standard size in Kyoto: 955mm x 1.91m.
The benefits of a tatami mat
It’s perfect for cold and warm conditions: There is a very good reason why tatami mats have rush grass on the top and it’s not only for its perfect balance of softness and firmness. It also creates insulation so cold or heat from the floor never penetrates the mat. Thus, it stays cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
It’s ideal for dry and humid conditions: During humid conditions, they absorb humidity and release that same humidity back into the air when the air is dry. So technically, it kind of works as a humidifier and a dehumidifier.
It blocks sound: They are great for wooden floors as they absorb the sound of footsteps.
They’re great for sleeping on: Although Western-style beds have gained popularity in Japan, many Japanese people still sleep on a bare tatami mat without a futon. For a Westerner, doing the same will take some getting used to, and there are several health benefits when doing so.
It’s eco-friendly: High-quality tatami mats made from natural materials, not only last for many years but are also 100% recyclable and can even be used as fertilizer.
Tatami mats for sale
MustMat tatami futon mattress
This two-piece dual-purpose mat has a surface made from 100% rush grass with a high-quality woven fabric back.
It’s firm, but comfortable and can be used for sleeping on, yoga, meditation, as an oriental rug, or even as an underlying mattress for a traditional Japanese futon.
And not only is it comfortable, but it also folds easily for effortless storage.
The product has dimensions of 70.8″ x 78.7″ and weighs 15 pounds.
Half-size tatami mat from Oriental Furniture
This classical Japanese-designed half-size tatami mat serves as a beautiful decoration piece and unique flooring alternative.
Its top part consists of beautiful Igusa (rush grass), and the back part has a moisture barrier, while the frame consists of kiln-dried hard pine.
The product has dimensions of 79″ x 35.4″ x 2″ and weighs 15 pounds.
6-piece Igusa unit tatami mat set
Do you need more than one? Then try these high-quality 6-piece tatami mat units made from Igusa (rush grass).
Each mat – which even has the lovely scent of Igusa, has a thickness of around 1 inch which prevents cold from the floor penetrating. This also makes it ideal for upstairs use because the thickness helps lower noise levels.
Each mat is incredibly soft and comfortable, which makes them suitable for sleeping on and practicing yoga. You can also stack two layers on top of each other for extra padding when sleeping.
The different layers: The bottom layer consists of non-woven fabric and has five non-slip pads that stop it from sliding around on the floor. In the center is a soft and firm filling consisting of polyethylene and polystyrene while the top layer is made entirely from Igusa (rush grass).
Each of the 6 pieces has a width of 33.7″, a length of 33.62″, and a thickness of about 1″. The combined weight of all 6 is 18.48 pounds.
Traditional foldable tatami mat/futon mattress
This traditional Japanese mat, which can also be used as a futon mattress is foldable up into four parts. The firm, yet comfortable mat is made from Igusa (rush grass) on the top, while the back is a non-woven fabric.
It takes some time getting used to if you’re planning on sleeping on it – especially if you have never slept on one before. If it’s too uncomfortable for you, you can always use it as an underlying mattress for a separate futon.
The product has dimensions of 35.4″ x 78.7″ x 1.2″ and weighs 7.5 pounds.
Goza mat from Oriental Furniture
This goza tatami mat is made from handwoven natural straw and has a beautiful black cotton canvas border.
Its thickness is 1/8″ which makes it a bit too thin for yoga or sleeping purposes, but it offers great quality for its price and serves as the perfect Japanese style floor cover.
Also, it’s advised to place non-slip pads underneath the mat if you will be using them on hardwood floors.
The floor cover is 36″ wide, 72″ long and 1/8″ thick, and weighs 2.25 pounds.
Tatami mat care tips
These mats are not exactly cheap, but they have all the hallmarks of Japanese quality and can, therefore, last decades with proper care. Check out these essential tatami mat care tips so that you can get the most out of your investment.
Remove shoes: The Japanese norm of removing one’s shoes before entering a home extends beyond cultural reasons. It’s also in part because walking with shoes or slippers on a tatami mat will eventually ruin the fabric and make it dirty. It is, therefore, best to walk on it barefoot or while wearing socks.
How to clean: Cleaning your tatami mat the proper way is essential because using the wrong method or cleaning detergent will do far more harm than good. The list of cleaning correctly is rather extensive, but the guys at tatamiroom.jp explain it perfectly.
Do not step on the borders: If your mat has a border, then it’s best not to step on it. Stepping on it for long enough will eventually result in it getting twisted out of shape.
Storage: Sometimes you may want to store your tatami mat for a certain period. In such a case, it’s best to store it in a cool, dry place. It’s also best to put them inside of a cover. Such covers usually come with your purchase or can be bought separately.