Five Advantages of a Japanese Futon

My wife and I recently made the decision to get rid of our mattress and bedframe, and switch to sleeping on Japanese futons (called shikibutons) full-time. If you don’t know what a Japanese futon is, it’s basically a bed made by folding layers of brushed cotton over and over again and covering it with a layer of fabric. They sit right against the ground – no boxspring, bed frame, nothing.

It was a decision that took time to come to grips with, and we did a ton of research before getting to that point. So what made us choose to sleep on the floor?

Japanese futons are better for your back.

My old mattress was 10 years old, and I started waking up with back and neck pain every single day. It got so bad that I couldn’t sleep through the night anymore, and I knew it was time to do something.

Now when we first started sleeping on the floor, I woke up with an extremely tight lower back. I know, doesn’t sound like much of an upgrade, right? This went on for a few days… but then something awesome happened: I woke up feeling like a million bucks. I haven’t had any pain since then. And the thing is, it’s not just pain from sleeping – I no longer get back pain while sitting in my office chair at work, either. Crazy!

There are two main reasons sleeping on a Japanese futon is better for your back. One, it aligns your spine. Sleeping on a soft mattress curves your spine, which can lead to chronic back pain over time. Sleeping on light padding on the floor does the opposite. Second, it engages your lower back muscles while you sleep, strengthening them each night. See here’s the thing: the back pain I felt the first few nights wasn’t because the bed was uncomfortable – it’s actually really comfy. No, it was because I was using muscles that I didn’t have to in a long time, sleeping on a body-confirming mattress. Because I use the muscles now, they’ve gotten stronger and the pain is gone.

Japanese futons free up space.

Because they’re just sheets of cotton, you can easily fold up your Japanese futon and store them away when not in use. This frees up your space to be used for anything you want. My wife and I use our bedroom to practice karate and yoga now. Couldn’t do that before!

We’ve been trying to move to a more minimalist lifestyle bit by bit, and this is another step in that direction. It’s amazing how much bigger the room feels now that the bed frame is gone.

They’re also portable.

Because they fold, you can pack your Japanese futons in your car on trips if you wanted to. It’s nice to have the flexibility to be able to move your bed around wherever you want.

They’re easier to clean.

Conventional mattresses build up stupid amounts of dust, hair, skin and dust mites over time – sexy stuff, I know. Thing is, they’re really tough to clean. You can vacuum them, sure, but you’ll get stuff off the surface.

With Japanese futons, you take them outside and beat them like a rug to knock the dust out. Then you leave them in the sun to help sanitize them and kill dust mites living in them. This process does a more thorough job of cleaning your bed than trying to clean your normal mattress with a vacuum.

They’re cheaper.

For a 100% organic, hand-made, twin-size Japanese futon (that was actually made in Japan), I paid $400 CAD. That’s less than a decent-quality conventional mattress, which starts at around $1,000 CAD. With proper care, Japanese futons will last you as long as, or longer than conventional mattresses, making them cheaper in the long run, too.

A word of warning if you’re thinking about buying…

So wait up… better sleep, a stronger back and more space, for less money? Sign me up, right?

Hang on.

Japanese futons aren’t for everybody. Some people just won’t find them comfortable (though I do), and if you have more serious back issues then this may not be for you.

It’s not just that though: they also require more work to maintain and care for. You have to roll them up and put them away each day. Because the futons are made of cotton, it absorbs moisture while you sleep. If you don’t put the bed away each day, this moisture gets trapped between your bed and the floor, and can cause mold and mildew. This will significantly shorten the life of your futon.

You also have to hang them out in the sunlight when weather permits. Part of what makes the bed so comfortable is that there are air pockets trapped between the layers of cotton. Over time, with repeated use, these air pockets compress. Hanging the beds out in the sun causes those air pockets to warm up and expand again, allowing your bed to “breathe” in a sense. If you don’t hang your bed outside in the sun though, the air pockets will eventually be squeezed out entirely, and you won’t be able to get them back. This will make your bed a lot less comfortable.

Wrapping it Up

Since getting our dual twin Japanese futons, there isn’t a day that goes by that we miss our old mattress. Five big advantages, one minor drawback… and it’s probably not even a drawback, since making up your bed each day comes with its own advantages.

The bottom line is that moving to the floor has been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. It’s made me want to look for other ways I can cut down on “stuff” and simplify my life. If you’re interested in buying your own, this site can set you up. Of all the sites I’ve seen, that one seems to make products of the highest quality. I bought mine from a store located in Toronto, but I’ve seen others recommend it highly. If you’re thinking about it, just take the plunge. You won’t regret it!


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