What is a Japanese Futon?

S. Kami
S. Kami
Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

A Japanese futon is a traditional form of Japanese bedding. Couches which convert into beds are also considered Japanese futons, but they differ greatly from the traditional form. The convertible couch models are similar to American and European style futon. A traditional futon is made up of three separate components: the shikibuton or under futon, kakebuton or comforters, and the makura or pillows.

In essence, the shikibuton is the mattress of the futon. They are most often stuffed with cotton batting. Due to the flexible nature of cotton, a Japanese futon can be rolled up; this allows it to be put away when it is not being used, helping to save space. In this way, a traditional Japanese futon may be much more practical than bulky couch futons that can't be moved, allowing one room to have multiple purposes: a work or guest room during the day, and a bedroom at night.

The mattress is usually wrapped in shifuku — sheets — and is topped with the kakebuton, which differs in thickness based on the season. During the winter, a heavy down kakebuton may be used, while in the summer a light one will be used. The makura is then tucked neatly into the head of the futon. A traditional makura pillow is filled with red beans or buckwheat chaff.

Regular users of the Japanese futon often rave about the wonders it does for the back. Compared to a soft bed, the hard floor and sufficient cushioning that the futon supplies is often good for those with back problems. Not every user will benefit, however.

It is important to take proper care of traditional futons, as they tend to attract all sorts of dust, mites, and grime if not cleaned regularly. After washing or using any other method of cleaning a futon, it is recommended that the futon be allowed to air dry in sunlight. This allows any moisture to evaporate, prevents mold, and kills any mites that may have found a home between the covers. The process of drying a futon in direct sunlight is referred to as futon-hoshi.

With proper care, a Japanese futon can last for many years. Many users prefer this type of futon for its space saving benefits, as well as finding it a comfortable way to alleviate back problems and sleep at night.

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Discussion Comments


My aunt had a herniated disk in her lower back, too. She got a Japanese-style futon because she heard that it might improve her condition. Well, she said that she woke up without pain for the first six months of using it. But then one morning she woke up with the same pain again, and she continued to wake up with the pain each and every morning thereafter.

She said that while it never worsened her condition, it never really improved it either. She said that she would not spend the money on the futon if she had it to do all over again.


I have a herniated disc in my lower back. Does anyone know if sleeping on a Japanese futon will alleviate or worsen my symptoms? I'm willing to try anything, but would really like some feedback on how other people with my condition are doing sleeping on a Japanese futon bed before I purchase one for myself.

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