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Why do Japanese sleep close to the floor?

Sleeping close to the floor has long been a tradition in Japanese culture. There are several reasons why many Japanese continue to sleep on futon mattresses placed directly on tatami mat floors rather than on Western-style beds.

Historical Origins

The custom of sleeping on futon mattresses has its roots in ancient Japan when most people lived in homes with dirt floors. Using thick futon mattresses provided comfort and insulation from the cold ground. Traditionally futons were easily folded away during the day to create more space in small homes.

The use of tatami mat floors became popular in Japan in the 16th century. Tatami are woven straw mats that are soft and ventilated. Japanese rooms were often sized based on the number of tatami mats that would fit the dimensions. The minimalist style and natural materials were aesthetically pleasing and well-suited to the Zen Buddhist philosophy of simplicity.

Minimalist Lifestyle

Sleeping close to the floor fits with the Japanese minimalist aesthetic. Folding away bedding declutters living spaces. The sparse home decor and multifunctional furniture allow the Japanese to efficiently use limited space. Smaller living quarters also encouraged close family relationships as all members would inhabit a single room together.

This minimalist approach extends beyond the home. In business and social settings, sitting on the floor promoted an egalitarian atmosphere without the class distinctions created by lavish furnishings. The minimalist philosophy still resonates in modern Japanese culture.

Health Benefits

There are several health benefits associated with sleeping on a futon close to the floor:

  • Better posture – The firm futon supports the spine’s natural alignment. The absence of a thick mattress reduces back and joint pain by preventing the body from sagging into soft bedding.
  • Improved circulation – Elevating the legs with a pillow allows blood to circulate while sleeping. This reduces swelling and numbness in the feet and legs.
  • Fewer allergens – Futons can be easily cleaned, aired out, and exposed to sunlight to eliminate dust mites and other allergens that collect in mattresses.
  • Better sleep habits – Rolling out bedding at night and storing it during the day encourages regular sleep cycles in tune with the sun.

The health benefits of futon beds likely contributed to their continued use despite the influence of Western furniture. Many Japanese are unwilling to abandon this traditional practice.

Temperature Regulation

Sleeping close to the floor helps regulate body temperature throughout the night. The tatami mats and futon disperse heat and allow for better ventilation than thick mattresses. The futon can be adjusted to make the sleeper more or less warm as desired.

Japan’s humid summers make temperature regulation essential for comfort. Cooling breezes close to the ground provide relief from the heat. In winter, bedding layers can be added to retain warmth. The adjustability helps sleepers remain at a comfortable temperature year-round.

Earthquake Preparedness

Sleeping low to the ground is also considered safer in earthquake-prone Japan. Falling debris causes more injuries than the tremors themselves. Being close to the floor minimizes harm if anything falls from shelves or ceilings during a quake. It also allows people to quickly take cover under sturdy furniture.

Japan experiences thousands of minor earthquakes annually in addition to major seismic events. Futons remain essential earthquake survival items along with hard hats and emergency kits.

Cultural Tradition

While the minimalist, health, and safety benefits of futons are substantial, cultural traditions may be the primary motivator for Japanese people to continue using them. Sleeping on the floor is an ancient practice that forms part of the nation’s cultural identity.

Parents pass down futons to their children as family heirlooms. Specialty futon shops assist customers in selecting mattresses tailored for their needs. Hotels provide futon bedding on the floor for an authentic experience. The Japanese government even designated the art of making Shikibuton futons as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property to preserve this heritage craft.

Although Western-style bedding is widely available, many Japanese still prefer to adhere to tradition. The ritual of rolling out the futon retains significance even in modern households.


While initially born of necessity, the practice of sleeping on floor futons holds meaning for Japanese people today. The minimalist aesthetic, health benefits, temperature regulation, earthquake preparedness, and cultural tradition all contribute to futons remaining the preferred sleeping quarters in Japan. The custom satisfies both physical and spiritual needs, seamlessly blending function with philosophy and history.

Reason Explanation
Historical Origins Futons provided comfort on dirt floors and were easy to store in small homes. Tatami mats became popular flooring in the 16th century.
Minimalist Lifestyle Futons allow efficient use of space. The sparse decor promotes egalitarian values.
Health Benefits Futons improve posture, circulation, and sleep habits compared to soft mattresses.
Temperature Regulation The floor provides better ventilation and ability to adjust bedding for ideal temperature.
Earthquake Preparedness Sleeping low to the ground minimizes injury risk during tremors.
Cultural Tradition Futons hold symbolic value and preserving their use preserves Japanese heritage.