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. In Japan, homes are much smaller than the usual 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 tatami room or washitsu 和室). The shikifutons are used in conjunction with a kakefuton (Japanese silk comforter).
Futons were introduced to the United States by Japanese immigrants. During the 1970s futons became especially popular due to their affordability. Furthermore, futons were popular due to the wave of young people who began to live out of vans- the most prominent being the VW Bus. Buying a futon was an excellent choice for those living this nomadic lifestyle as it was both cheaper and smaller than conventional mattresses.
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, 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 futon bed frame. He designed the tri-fold frames traditionally associated with western futons that gave them the ability to be both a bed and a couch.
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. There are significantly more options available for both the futons themselves and the frames that accompany them.