First-time Futon Buyer’s Cautionary Tale

Ever since arriving in Japan, I had a romantic idea of sleeping on the floor on top of a futon bed. To clarify, I don’t mean the low, wooden sofa beds of the Western-style futons. I mean the real, lay-on-the-floor, heavy duvet sandwich with you in the middle. Whenever I visited a ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn), I relished in the lovely cloud-soft comfort of the cotton beds, and vowed to get my own in Japan.

However, when relaying my plans of futon ownership to friends living in Japan, I was consistently met with advice against it. After hearing about problems with moisture and the requirement of regular maintenance, a western style mattress did sound like an easier option. And I mean, I loved my mattress back in Canada. It was so comfortable. I loved jumping into bed face first and not feeling the hard floor underneath. By no means do I hate the western style mattress… But…but… I was in Japan! I wanted a futon! It felt like a right of passage into Japanese life. And part of me needed to satisfy my curiosity by experiencing the responsibilities of taking care of a futon myself. Besides, the Japanese have slept on them for literally centuries. How hard could it really be?

The initial search for futons started close to home. We looked through hardware stores, furniture stores, looked on google maps; but there wasn’t anything that looked like what we were imagining. Next, we looked to Oita city, the closest big city. There, we found two futon store locations on google. Without much to go on other than a street photo, we take our little K-Car down to Oita for the weekend to investigate.

The first store is a bust. We end up on an apartment block with no store in sight. Next is a store in a shopping arcade, and it’s exactly what we are looking for!

We make a loop through the store before reaching the counter to ask for help. An employee (and later, we guess is the owner of the store) helps us with some of our options, before guiding us to the custom made futons section. There’s a selection of fabrics one can choose from, and told that an order takes up to two weeks to complete. We are taken with the fabric of a futon already on display (above image, far right), so we order two sets of futon beds and wait for delivery. 

We receive our futons within the two week timeline. The man who helped us at the store has driven down to deliver the futons, and I am beyond ecstatic! 

Now it’s time keep a close eye on the futons. I’ve read that a weekly routine of drying the futons on the balcony on a sunny day helps eliminate moisture that can build up in the futon, which I try and maintain. It’s the middle of September, but still hot and dry to easily accomplish this.

One thing we don’t anticipate is the hardness of the bed directly on the floor. As opposed to a more buoyant tatami flooring, we can feel the hardness of the floor beneath us (and this is coming from my bf who prefers harder mattresses!). We eventually buy padded mats for under our futons, and this increases our comforts exponentially.

After about a month and a half, we are loving our new beds. With the expenses of setting up a new apartment, breaking up the costs of the beds throughout the months have been a great advantage. However, our purchases don’t stop here. We’ll also have to get some kind of platform to place between the mattress and the floor to encourage air flow. However, the sheer necessity for this item doesn’t reveal itself to us until the colder and more humid months of November.

The potential for moisture to build up was already made clear to us, but not necessarily to what degree. I suspected so when, on one of the few sunny days in November, I hung the futons outside to dry, only to reveal a cool sheen of moisture on the floor where the futon laid. On one of these days, I checked the underside of one of our mats to find it speckled with the beginnings of mold. 😭

Luckily, it hasn’t reached our futons. The same day, we headed out to the hardware store in search of something that would help with moisture. We find slates made specifically for the futons in furniture department of the store. We buy two.  

After a week of trying our new system, the beds are significantly dryer.  I’ve been eyeing a futon dryer which will help in the cooler months but will see how we fair in the time being. 

Costs vary, but this one is a slightly more expensive heater at ¥11,200.

Lastly, I thought I’d give a breakdown of costs, in case anyone is struggling to decide between a futon and a western style mattress. 

Here’s rough estimate (for two people): 

  1. Futon – ¥40,000 x 2 = ¥80,000
  2. Full Set of Sheets – ¥12,000 x 2 = ¥24,000 
  3. Extra Padding under the futon – Roughly ¥7,000 each x 2 = ¥14,000
  4. Wooden Slates – ¥11,000 each x 2 = ¥22,000

Total: ¥140,000

Costs of a western bed will obviously vary between size and types of frames and mattresses, so one should do their own research. A quick look on the Japanese site ニトリ shows that a double bed frame and mattress can cost anywhere between ¥24,000 to ¥160,000 and up, and that’s without a duvet or sheet set. 

Final Verdict: Regardless of the little surprises and extra costs involved, I (we) don’t regret our futon purchases. I love how they match our apartment. I love how they feel to sleep in. I love how it feels like our own private ryokan. I even love taking care of them, and come to appreciate the maintenance required to make sure they last for a long time. They’re an intrinsic part to my fantasy of living in Japan, so I’ll do what it takes to help them last.