Tatami mats, Japanese flooring

Tatami mats are a traditional form of flooring found in Japanese homes and have been deeply rooted in the Japanese culture from the 12th century. During the 12th century, Tatami mats were luxury goods used by emperors, nobles, religious leaders and other high-ranking officials. It is said that Tatami varied in thickness and size, the fabric used on the edges were made of different colors and showed the rank of the individual household that owned it. Usage by the upper-class continued until the 17th century, when Tatami found their way into the homes of ordinary people.

Simple straw mats for sleeping preceded Tatami. In a quest for comfort, these simple grass mats were made gradually thicker and Tatami evolved. In the 15th and 16th centuries, people began to use them as a form of flooring for the first time, this marked an evolution in Japanese people's way of life and giving birth to Japan's unique Tatami culture. (see Chashitsu glossary / layout )

Tatami mat construction

Tatami matsThere are three different parts to an authentic Tatami mat; the reed or rush covering, the straw core, and the decorative cloth edging or brocade. In Japanese these are called; the Tatami Omote, Tatami Goto and the Tatami Beri. The Tatami Omote is made of a soft reed and each one needs about 4,000 to 5,000 rushes. Hemp or cotton string is then used to weave the Omote together. To make the Tatami Goto or straw core, 40cm of straw is crushed to just five centimeters. Finally, cloth brocade is used to border the mats.

Surface of Tatami mats: Tatami mats are covered with Rush Grass. High quality long grass is dyed with natural Japanese clay to enhance even color tone which turns golden-yellow as it ages.

Steps of making Tatami: The Rush grass covering must be tightly woven and stitched in precise tension to prevent from warping or damaging.

Rice straw core: The Rice straw core should be heated to 90 degree Celsius in a kiln or dry oven as is required by the Japan Agriculture Standard(JAS) and USDA. After proper treatment, layers of rice straw are accurately measured and compressed to two inches. Multiple lines of yarns should be tightly stitched together to provide durability and level.

Tatami benefits

Tatami mats also have health benefits. The tatami's straw inner-core is pressed tight and has lots of air pockets. This makes it very effective at absorbing heat. According to studies by Japanese scholars, a Tatami mat can also absorb approximately 500cc of water from the air. When the atmosphere is dry, the water will naturally evaporate. Tatami is made of soft reed which according to traditional Chinese medicine calms the spirit. The natural smell relaxes the body and soothes the mind.

When laying down the Tatami mats, one has to pay attention to certain rules because the number and layout of tatami mats can bring good or bad fortune. Tatami mats shouldn't be laid in a grid pattern, as it will bring bad luck. The only time a grid layout can be used is during mourning. Many shops used to be designed to be the size of "five and half tatami mats," as this will ensure you have good fortune no matter what kind of business you are in.

Tatami mat dimensions

The Tatami mat is the only type of flooring for a traditional Chashitsu. In Japan, the size of a room, and that of a house is typically measured by the number of Tatami mats or Jō. The traditional dimensions of the mats were fixed at 90 cm by 180 cm by 5 cm (1.62 square meters)(35.5 inch by 71 inch by 2 inch). Half mats, 90 cm by 90 cm (35.5 inch by 35.5 inch) are also made. Tea rooms and tea houses are frequently 4½ mats (7.29m²) which is called a Koma style room. Because the size is fixed, rooms and homes in traditional Japanese construction measure in multiples of 90 cm. Mats from Kyoto called Kyo-tatami and other parts of western Japan are slightly larger than those from Tokyo and eastern Japan at 95.5 cm by 191 cm (1.82m²; 37.6 inch by 75.2 inch).

Caring for Tatami properly is important. Tatami can mold or become damaged if not handled properly. As a general rule, Tatami mats should be taken out every three to six months so that they can be beaten, aired, rotated, and replaced if necessary. Tatami mats are not affixed to the undersurface in order to remove them easily.

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