When I moved from Philadelphia to Tokyo for a year with my husband and three young children, we had to furnish our bright two-bedroom apartment in a hurry. But there was one item I knew we wouldn’t buy: beds. With a family of five on 650 square feet, I didn’t want to clutter up our limited space with heavy mattresses and bulky bed frames. Instead, I headed straight to Nitori, a popular cheap furniture store, and for less than $300, I bought a set of futons (this model is similar to what I bought) and foam cushions.
Unlike sofa beds called “futons” in the United States, Japanese futons are quilted mattresses filled with cotton or fiber and can be placed directly on the floor or on foam, tatami or wooden mats. Although many people in Japan have Western-style mattresses and box springs, futons are still a popular choice, especially in compact apartments, because they are easy to move or store. For my family, sleeping on a few inches of foam and quilted padding didn’t feel spartan, rigid, or even particularly minimalist. It was perfect.
The surface of the futon was pleasantly plush, and the foam platform and firm floor underneath provided the perfect support. It was cool in the sticky heat of summer and comfortable in the damp cold of winter. My back felt good. This may be due to the combination of cushion and firmness of the futon. While some people swear that sleeping directly on the floor or other hard surfaces helps relieve back pain, experts say medium-firm mattresses are ideal for relieving back pain. Although a typical Japanese futon configuration offers a good amount of cushion, it is harder than very soft pillow top or memory foam mattresses.
Unlike a bed, a futon is not a dominating piece of furniture. A futon serves its purpose when needed, at night, but then easily disappears into a closet. My kids could use the entire floor space of their bedroom to play during the day or pull their futon into our room when they got sick. Futons are also not home to dust bunnies.
In fact, they are very easy to clean. The Japanese regularly air their futons and other bedding, often by hoisting them out of windows or over balcony railings. About once a week, if the weather was clear, my husband or I removed and washed the sheets, gathered the futons, duvets and pillows, and hung them out on our balcony for a few hours of sunshine and fresh air. It was a chore, but worth it for the pleasure of snuggling up in a fresh smelling bed at the end of the day. In Japan, you can even send your futon to the laundromat for a deep cleaning. Suddenly the idea of sleeping for years and years on a mattress that I could never wash seemed a bit gross.
These days I’m back in the States, and as the editor of the Wirecutter sleep team, I’ve been able to test all kinds of spring, memory foam and latex mattresses, but to be completely honest, my Japanese Futon.
This article was edited by Jason Chen and Christine Cyr Clisset.
It’s sleep week at Wirecutter! Learn about Sleep Week’s best deals on our expert-recommended mattresses, bedding and more for your bedroom.
Leave a Reply