Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Our tatami room

My favorite room in our house is the tatami room.  Tatami are traditional Japanese mats made out of straw and placed on the floor like carpeting.  Although our tatami are faded and well-worn, the room often smells like sweet and clean like grass.

Looking into the tatami room from the living room
(the genkan is the door on the right)

Our tatami room has a low table with an area below the floor called a horigotatsu (掘り炬燵).  The space underneath the table is a comfortable place for our legs and has a built in heater.  In the winter, a futon blanket can be placed between the top of the table and the frame.  We don't have central heating (or basically any type of insulating on the house) so we have to use individual heaters.  Makes more sense than trying to heat or cool all three floors like our townhouse in Virginia but can also be a pain to turn on space heaters throughout the house.  Although it doesn't get cold enough in Okinawa, in mainland Japan the table and blanket is a cozy gathering place for the family.

Edit:  Here's a great article about using the kotatsu and winter weather by You, Me, and a Tanuki.

Below table heater

Our kotatsu table is removable (the top and frame are stored in the space below, with extra tatami mats to place over the opening in the floor).  Although we haven't had any friends or family come visit yet, switching the tatami room from a formal dining room to a guest room would be very convenient.

Another nice feature of using tatami, the mats are completely removable.  Not too long ago, a potty training toddler had an accident in the tatami room.  Even after thoroughly drying and cleaning the mats, a faint smell lingered.  So I pulled up the mat and put it out in the sun for the afternoon.  No more pee-pee smell.

Back and front of tatami
Speaking of cleaning, tatami do require some special maintenance   First, make sure you frequently check under any objects for mold.  Here is one example of mold growing under a futon mattress.  When we first moved in, I used the tatami room to store all of our boxes and packing paper.  A few months later I had a nasty surprise waiting for me underneath all those boxes - the dreaded kabi (mildew).  I also take the extra mats out of the closet and make sure they're aired out from time to time.

Tatami cleaner
To clean the mats, I first vaccuum making sure to follow the direction of the straw.  Next I break out the Swiffer and put a special cleaning pad on it.  I found ours at Makeman but I'm sure other stores like Aeon have them too.  So far, I've been able to get up every mess the boys have put down with just a little scrubbing and sunlight (but we're careful not to allow red wine or other stain-makers into the room).

The mats are spendy to replace (I think around $150 to $200 per basic mat (our room has 4 regular sized mats and 4 customs mats, so you do the math)), but I try not to freak out too much about the tatami.  Much like carpeting, the mats need to be replaced from time to time. (And so do the shoji screens, another part of our washitsu, which I'll cover in a future post.)

The tatami room is a special treat while living in Japan.  I know not every family is lucky enough to enjoy such a traditional space and love using ours as much as possible.

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