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A Brief History of Japanese Futons in America

Futons have been used in Western culture (particularly the United States) for several decades. However, the entire idea behind the “futon” began in Japan with their traditional shikifutons/ shikibutons. In Japan, these cotton mattresses were used for centuries due to their multifunctionality and ability to be easily stored away during the day. Japanese homes have always been much smaller than the typical modern home in the West, thus there was a need for beds that could be easily put away when needed. The traditional Japanese shikifuton is placed upon a tatami mat, usually in what is called a washitsu (和室) or "tatami room".  Shikifuton mattresses are used in conjunction with a kakefuton- a type of Japanese silk comforter.

History of Futons I J-Life International

Futons were first introduced to the United States by Japanese immigrants. During the 1970s, futons became especially popular due to their affordability.  Japanese style futons were also popular due to the wave of young people who began to live out of vans- the most prominent of which being the iconic Volkswagen Bus. Buying a futon was an excellent choice for those living this nomadic lifestyle, as it was both cheaper and smaller than conventional mattresses. 

History of Futons I J-Life International

Despite being Japanese in origin, the futons that became popularized in the United States were not the same as the traditional shikifuton. The biggest difference was in size. The Japanese shikifuton was much thinner at only 3-5 inches in thickness, while the futons used in the United States were roughly 8-10 inches thick. Additionally, in 1982, a bed frame was introduced that was made specifically for futons. Boston area furniture designer William Brouwer is credited with designing the first American futon bed frame. He designed the tri-fold frames traditionally associated with Western futons that gave them the ability to serve as both a bed and a couch. 

History of Futons I J-Life International

In the early 2000s, futons became more standard in home décor. Instead of merely being purchased for its affordability, they have become stand alone pieces of design themselves. Many people are also attracted to Japanese futon beds today because of their minimalistic design and the benefits they have on sleep quality and health. While the core concept of the Japanese shikifuton hasn't changed much over time, many new and inventive styles of futon beds and their accompanying frames have appeared in the West.

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