Friday, May 29, 2015

Tatami Life: Textures of an Old-fashioned Japanese Apartment

We searched long and hard for our first apartment together as husband and wife. We looked at a lot of different places in the area (with at least three different 不動産 real estate companies, we had the best luck with a small local Kyoto company) and this room we are in now was the only one I liked instantly.

It's in an older building that had some of its rooms recently renovated. It's in a great location for us transportation-wise and the rent is dirt-cheap for two reasons: the building is quite old and both rooms (living and bedroom) are tatami rooms.

That's right, having linoleum or some other kind of hard "Western-style" flooring is so in demand these days that old-fashioned rooms with more than one tatami space are sold cheaper, when they exist at all. All the rooms next to us on our floor have had the tatami ripped out and replaced with hard flooring in the living room space.

I'm not sure why; perhaps Japanese people think flooring is easier to clean or is a better fit for comfortable Western furniture like chairs, desks, and sofas, but I'm completely in love with tatami now. It smells great when the sun hits it, it's easy to keep clean (spills wipe up fine if you get to them quickly before liquids "sink in" to the tatami weave), it's comfortable to lie and sit on, and we can use futon bedding, which I now find more comfortable than any mattress.

Life on the floor: our low table where we eat and use our laptops. I like coming home from a rough day and being able to just stretch out on the floor or recline after eating (may not be the best habit if you want to lose weight).

The sliding shoji doors that divide our bedroom from the living room, made of wood and paper. They are not light, sound, or air-proof at all but do allow for more privacy than a studio apartment. A patch is in the shape of a flower.

Our ceiling: I really love this dark ceiling with something like natural-looking branches supporting it. Our apartment came unfurnished (like most Japanese apartments) so we had to buy and install the light fixtures ourselves.

 The frosted glass and wood door that separates the living room from the kitchen: it's probably pretty dated but it works well in keeping the room warm during the winter. In the summer it's always open to allow for air circulation.

...and the fairytale of lovely straight simple lines and natural textures comes to an end in the kitchen and bathroom! I find the interiors of most Japanese houses and apartments to be very functional and even industrial-looking. Most families don't seem to care and don't spend much money or effort to make beautiful kitchens or bath spaces like Americans often do. Priorities are different I guess!

Bare pipes on our taps

Very functional bath. If we wanted a high-tech Japanese tub that fills up, maintains temperature, and sings to you when it's ready all with the press of a button, we'd have to install it ourselves.

Our veranda where our washing machine lives. Like most Japanese households we don't have a dryer and air-dry our clothes, on the veranda or indoors, depending on the weather.

Aside from the large amount of tatami, our apartment is pretty typical of what you'll find here. Honestly I find the practical and uninspired interiors of houses with harsh fluorescent lighting (even in bedrooms, ugh!) rather depressing most of the time, so I was so happy to find our place with some beauty and calming touches in the tatami rooms. I'm saddened to learn tatami aren't popular in Japan anymore and are giving way to plain functional Western-style rooms. Thanks to my husband who stuck out an annoying house-hunt, we can enjoy this pleasant little space as a refuge of visual quiet and beauty.


  1. Your new apartment looks lovely! Congrats on the find!

  2. Looks great! I also love tatami -- and lucky for me most of our apt is tatami and my in-laws entire house (minus the kitchen and bathroom) is tatami. I'm in heaven. Just watch out for the nasty bugs that grow in them. Be sure to air the mats out when you can.

    1. Ew I never heard of bugs in the tatami! By 'air out the mats' do you mean rip them out of the floor?

    2. They are called dani (壁蝨, more commonly written ダニ) or usually just "tatami bugs", "tatami ticks", or "tatami mites" in English. They live in the tatami and come out when people are sitting or sleeping on them to bite you and suck some blood. Basically, think bedbugs. If you wake up with tiny itchy red bites, you probably have dani.

      At the store you can find all kinds of stuff to get rid of them. But one of the most effective things is just take the tatami mats (they are removable) and set them outside in the sun on nice days. You don't have to do this every day -- some people do it maybe once a month. It's kind of like airing out your futon. The sunlight will kill bugs and also help reduce mildew (another tatami problem).

      Here is some info:

      And you can see a photo on this page:

      Tatami are wonderful and I love them, but they do require some work to keep fresh and dani-free.

    3. Having said all that, the landlord probably replaced the tatami before you moved in so you probably won't have any problems for a few years at least. So don't worry too much. I only mentioned because I've had to deal with them at my in-laws house and so they are on my mind.

    4. Oh I know dani! And no we don't have them, phew. Yes the mats had been replaced when we moved in. Ok (^_^)v sounds like no fun to deal with though!

  3. !!!!!!
    You live in a magic fairy tale.
    How are people not constantly ripping through the paper walls. Ahhhh.
    Maybe tatami is Japan's version of that brown shag carpeting from the 70s. ;) (Which also sounds super comfy, but which we've only seen as the gross dog-under-an-overpass stuff that people rip out as soon as possible.)

    1. Haha not a fairy tale, just life^^

      We have to be careful around the paper door, it has a little give so it hasn't ripped yet even though I've bumped it a few times, fingers crossed^^
      I also think maybe it's hard for old people to get up from the floor, one reason why flooring and chairs are becoming more popular...

    2. The point about older people makes sense and is very dear--but it's also interesting in light of Japan--colloquially, at least--leading the world in "really old people"! Do you think this was always a problem and people are just more recently deciding change was worth it, or do you think old people just weren't expected to get up off the floor as much? Like how in Princess Kaguya the court lady tells her to just walk on her knees if she really needs to move?

    3. Hm, I'm not sure...maybe with the expansion of the nuclear family (generations not living together) old folks have to do more for themselves. Perhaps in the past they were allowed to be sedentary sooner or didn't live as long, who knows!


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