The image of a traditional Japanese room includes the shoji, paper-covered wooden frame windows called shoji, fusuma, being sliding doors of wood or paper covered frame, and the distinctive Japanese flooring, straw mats called tatami.


Early tatami mats were very thin, just woven mats that were spread over the hard cold wooden floors.The word “tatami” from the verb tatamu, means to fold or pile up. During the Heian Period, the tatami were a luxury item enjoyed by the nobility and were isolated pieces on the wooden floors used for sitting and sleeping. By the Muromachi Period, the mats had evolved into the tatami as we know them now, covering the floors of many rooms and even used in the homes of commoners.


The size of the tatami differes from region to region. Mats in Tokyo and the surrounding region are known as Edoma or Kantoma, and average 88cm X 176cm, with a thickness of 6cm. The central districts around Nagoya have mats of 91cm X 182cm and are referred to as Ainoma, or “In Between size”. The Nagoya mat size is seen as the standard unit size, while Kyoto tatami known as Kyoma tatami generally measures 95.5cm X 191cm, and is 5.5cm thick.

Traditional mats were made with a rice-straw core, or Toko,  with a woven cover of igusa, a soft rush, called the Omote. The brocade or cloth edge is called a heri, and in the past, it was considered impolite to step on the heri, as long ago, the colour distinguished the household’s social rank. Modern-day mats use a core of compressed wood chip or polystyrene foam.


There are rules considering the layout of tatami mats, and auspicious and inauspicious arrangements depending on the occasion, and the mats could be hastily re-arranged if the need arose. Mats must never be laid out in a grid pattern, and there should never be a point where the corners of four mats meet. Modern day homes are usually configured in the auspicious arrangement to avoid bringing bad fortune.

Unfortunately, although modern houses rarely feature the traditional flooring, there is usually at least
one room in the house set aside for the tatami.


Similar Posts