Answerman
Do Japanese People Use Beds Or Futons?

by Justin Sevakis,

Kitty asked:

I was reading a manga where the main characters at first slept on futons but later got a Western style bed. And it reminded me of a thing I've been wondering many times before when we see characters' bedrooms in anime and manga. Fairly often they have Western style beds. How well does this reflect real life? Do most Japanese have beds or do they actually use futons more? Or do different aged people prefer one or the other? Or is there difference in city vs countryside?

Whether a Japanese home uses a traditional futon with a buckwheat hull-stuffed "makura" pillow, or a Western style bed has predominantly been a matter of personal taste and practicality. The biggest factor tends to be whether the room itself (or the house itself) is done up in traditional "washitsu" style, or a more contemporary Western style.

Both styles of beds have their plusses and minuses. A futon takes up far less room, and can be folded up in a closet when you're not sleeping. On the other hand, they're a bit more work to maintain: they need to be taken out and beaten over a fence or balcony railing if you don't want them to collect dust mites. Also, if you're going to bed and absolutely dead on your feet, having to yank and unfold a futon from the closet is kind of a pain.

Western decor and traditional room furnishings tend to not work together very well, either aesthetically or practically. Try to picture a traditional Japanese room with tatami floors, sliding shoji doors, and a kotatsu with a Western style bed and a student desk... I suppose it could be done, but it would look really weird. Tatami flooring is not the strongest material in the world, and would likely get damaged by a heavy bed frame. Also, tatami floors need to be scrubbed if you don't want them to smell like feet after a while, and heavy furniture can get in the way. But futons are extremely practical. They're more common in places with more traditional buildings, like the countryside. Also, small studio apartments often still use them to make more efficient use of space.

These days most newer homes are Western style, and aside from small touches (like outward-opening doors and a low entrance for removing shoes), they're really not very different from a contemporary house you'd see in Europe or America. I've seen some houses that mix Western and Japanese styles in different rooms, but those are pretty rare. Apartment buildings are almost all Western style these days. Unless someone strongly prefers futons, anyone living in those spaces will probably opt for a Western style bed.

For most middle-class people in Japan, Western style architecture tends to seem more modern and metropolitan, and so it has become the norm in the last few decades. Western style design also tends to work better with modern industrial building techniques. Traditional living quarters are too often relegated to the extreme ends of the socioeconomic ladder; the poor are more likely to inhabit old, outdated buildings that use traditional wood designs, while the rich might indulge high-class traditional design purely out of aesthetic reasons.


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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for nearly 20 years. He's the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.


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