There are many reasons why traditional Japanese shikifutons are better for us than western style mattresses. One of the biggest reasons to choose a shikifuton is that they are much better for your back. Western style mattresses are much softer and several inches thicker than the futons they use in Japan. Because of this our bodies are cradled by the mattress and thus our back muscles become weaker and more complacent over time. This leads to chronic back pain. Shikifutons are usually only 2-4 inches thick and are much firmer. This forces our spines to stay aligned while we sleep and keeps our lower back engaged. While it may be uncomfortable at first it is because we are not used to having to use those muscles. Many doctors are actually starting to recommend using shikifutons in place of western style mattresses especially for those who struggle with chronic conditions such as scoliosis.
Shikifutons are not just better for back but they are, also, better if you live in small quarters. Japanese homes are much smaller than most westerners are accustomed to so space is used in a different way. Following the principle of kanso everything in the home has purpose and is typically multifunctional- the shikifuton is no different. Shikifutons are thin enough that they can be folded up to put into storage during the day or used as a couch instead of a bed.
Another benefit is that they are much cheaper and easier to clean than western style mattresses. To buy a nice durable mattress can easily cost over a thousand dollars but you can get a nice shikifuton- that will last upwards of 5-7 years- for only a couple hundred. As for cleaning despite the common misconception it is much easier to keep your shikifuton clean than a regular mattress. Regular mattresses accumulate dust, hair, mites and so much more over the years. They are, also, very difficult to properly clean. You can vacuum the surface of them, but that’s just the surface and doesn’t help with the problems that lay within. Shikifutons have several key steps but are much easier to maintain overall. The most important step is to beat your futon with a racket and make sure to sun it in order to kill any dust mites or bacteria growing in the futon. For a full shikifuton care guide read our blog post.