Is a Japanese Futon Good for Your Back?

Did you know, on average, we spend one-third of our lives sleeping?

It, therefore, goes without saying that choosing the right bed frame, mattress, and bedding has become so important.

While there are several brands and different types of mattresses in the market that promise to be easy on your back, the Japanese futon is a lesser-known option that’s definitely worth considering.

Unlike Japanese cuisines that have reached all corners of the world, sleeping on Japanese futons is not yet very common in the US. But, this traditional Japanese mattress offers a host of benefits, including being excellent for your back.

Intrigued? Here’s a brief overview of futons and why the Japanese love them.

Getting to Know the Japanese Futon

quilted japanese futon for bad backs

A futon is a traditional form of bedding used in Japan and is designed to be laid down on the floor rather than on a futon bed frame.

But the futon isn’t simply a floor mattress. In fact, futons include three main elements:


It’s the main mattress on which you’ll be sleeping. Typically made using cotton, a shikibuton is nearly 4 inches thick.


It’s a small, firm pillow traditionally made using buckwheat hulls.


It’s the duvet or comforter. You can choose from different types of kakebuton depending on the thickness level you require and the weather in the area you live in.

When assembling your futon, first sweep the floor and ensure it’s clean. Then, lay the shikibuton on a tatami mat, not directly on the hard floor, as tatami mats provide softer and more airy support.

Now that you’ve been introduced to futons let’s take a quick walk through history to understand how futons became so popular in Japan.

A Brief History of Futons

modern futon example

While futons are considered a common part of Japanese tradition today, they didn’t become commonplace in Japanese homes until the 20th century.

In ancient Japan, during the Nara period (ad 710–784), only the nobility enjoyed the luxury of sleeping on beds while peasants slept on the ground on mats made of rice or straw.

Later in the Heian period, the Japanese upper class used several stacks of tatami mats (yaedatami), with the number of layers representing a person’s rank.

Soon after, as cotton became more available, the futons were stuffed with a thin layer of cotton for a stiffer, more rigid surface.

These cotton-filled futons were handmade and extremely expensive — a luxury intended for nobility.

It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that Japanese shops started making and selling futons with appropriate cotton padding.

And by the post-war period, cotton futons were no longer considered a status symbol. Rather they became a common choice of bedding for the masses.

In the first half of the 20th century, futons began to be introduced to the West by travelers who had visited Japan and carried these futons back home.

Today, futons continue to be a popular choice in Japan despite Western-style mattresses becoming more common.

In fact, if you visit a ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) today, you’ll get to experience sleeping on a futon on a tatami floor in their washitsus (or Japanese-style rooms) — a distinct experience that only Japan can offer.

Why Should You Switch to Using a Japanese Futon?

You might think of the Japanese futon as being too thin and uncomfortable, but you’d be wrong.

Not only are futons incredibly comfortable to sleep on, but they also offer the following advantages.

space saving japanese futon

#1. Space Savers

Japanese futons are designed to be rolled or folded up in the morning — a practical choice if you constantly battle for space in your bedroom.

#2. Easy to Clean

Unlike the usual mattresses that are physically tiresome to clean, you need less effort to clean your futons and keep them hygienic.

Most futons are also machine-washable and just like our futon covers, can easily be aired as they are not bulky.

#3. Durable and Impressive Quality

While they may seem thin compared to the standard mattresses, futons are made from durable materials.

They are also designed with a breathable weave, making them resistant to molds and mites.

With proper care, Japanese futons can last nearly 15 years!

How Sleeping on the Japanese Futon Can Benefit Your Back

japanese style futon helps back problems

Japanese futons can beor people with chronic back pain!

Read on to know how futons can reduce back discomfort and offer you a restful sleep.

1. Helps Align Your Spine

Research has shown that sleeping on a firm surface is beneficial to our backs.

Western mattresses are often too cushy and sink or form a curve when you rest on them. Your spine follows this curvature which can eventually lead to chronic back pain.

When you sleep on the floor on a Japanese futon, the flat surface allows your spine to maintain its alignment without any unnatural curves.

2. Strengthens Your Lower Back

When you’re sleeping, you wouldn’t think your lower back muscles would be put to any work — but they will if you use a Japanese futon.

On a soft mattress, your spine is cradled, which sounds great, but not in the long run. A firm surface helps strengthen your lower back muscles and keeps them engaged even while you sleep.

3. Promotes Better Posture

Poor posture is one of the main triggers of back pain, but you can remedy this by using a supportive and firm Japanese futon.

When the Japanese futon is set on the floor, the flat surface of the floor provides support, ensuring there is no sagging.

This ensures an even sleeping surface with no indents that can cause awkward sleeping positions.

4. Allows Your Body to Relax in its Natural State

Since futons are firmer, they allow you to twist and turn comfortably in your sleep. Since a mattress typically conforms to your body’s shape, it can lock your body in one position while you sleep.

However, there is no sagging on a futon, so you can easily change positions. This also prevents soreness or stiffness in your back.

5. Consistent Back Support

Given the firm and flat surface Japanese futons provide, your back muscles get complete and equal support throughout the night, regardless of your sleeping position.

Are You Ready to Make the Switch?

japanese futon better for kids backs

While futons offer several benefits, they may not be for everyone.

Elderly people with limited mobility and pregnant women may find futons difficult to get in and out of. Side sleepers may also not find futons very comfortable.

Fortunately, these beds aren’t the only answer or the best mattress for chronic pain – learn more.

You can research other workable options before committing to a new bed.

That said, futons can benefit people with health conditions like chronic back issues and sciatica.

However, ensure that your futon cushions your body well and does not adversely impact your sleep quality.

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