Monday, August 20, 2012

Tatami-----a prerequisite item for a Japanese house

(a tatami room with an alcove at a Japanese Inn;from a website)

Our house is a typical Japanese style.  That means most of our rooms are tatami rooms.  Tatami mats, if we take a good care of them, it lasts about 20 years or so. Recently one of our tatami rooms finally needed to be renewed.  The inner core of every tatami mat in the room got too soft although we'd had the tatami craftsman change the woven surface coverings of tatami over times by then.  We felt it while walking on them  that it was not a surface but a inner core that didn't function.

(a tatami craftsman renewed our 8-tatami room)

Tatami mats that cover a floor in a traditional Japanese room are something very unique and special that symbolizes the Japanese style of living. It has a long history over 1300 years. In Japan we take off our shoes at the entrance since we sit down on tatami mats in a Japanese style room.

(3 components of tatami mat)

Tatami is made up of three components: surface coverings known as tatami omote, inner bases called tatami doko, and edging borders, tatami beri.

Tatami coverings are made from a plant called candle rush or igusa in Japanese. Its a thin sheet of woven rush grass.  Tatami doko is a tightly packed pile of rice straw stacked in many layers until it is about 5 cm thick. Getting these two components ready, a tatami craftsman stitches a surface covering onto an inner base.  And finally edging borders made of woven cloth are sewn onto a body.  Tatami used to be handcrafted through all the process by skilled craftsmen. It is quite a hard labor so today machines help some part of these steps yet the quality can’t beat skilled craftsmen' s work.

(Nowadays a tatami craftsman use a machine, too)

There are very good reasons to spread tatami in a whole room.  Summer in Japan is very humid and hot.  We also have a damp rainy season just before summer starts. Flooring with tatami mats is ideal from an environmental viewpoint.  Tatami components are made of dried stalks.  A dried stalk has many air holes in it like a sponge and this allows air to come in and out. Good circulation helps to create a comfortable space.  Tatami mats also give a room a refreshing greenery smell.

(dried candle rush (igusa) and its stalk cutaway image)

By the way, the size of one tatami mat differs depending on the local region, but briefly speaking it is just as big as a western size single bed. It is very convenient in a way that we describe the size of a room using numbers of tatami such as a 6-tatami room or a 8-tatami room.  Suppose I say my house consists of two 6- tatami rooms, three-8-tatami rooms and one 10-tatami room, which is not true, though.  This makes easy for anyone to guess how large my house is. 

(a traditional guest room with an alcove)

Nowadays, Western style housing is more common in our daily lives. Yet we still have a Japanese style room with tatami in at least one or even two rooms of a modern house. 

I think Tatami is something special and important to identify ourselves as Japanese.


Au and Target said...

I love these and I would like to have a tatami room too but also a sofa to watch TV!

The Chair Speaks said...

Our human goes barefoot in the house, sits on the floor and would love to have tatami rooms. If we have it, it would give us, kitties, endless pleasure of scratching it and horrified our human! :)

Amin said...

Hello! Thank You very mcu for sharing! All these are very interesting!