A futon is traditional Japanese bedding consisting of padded mattresses and quilts pliable enough to be folded and stored away during the day, allowing the room to serve for purposes other than as a bedroom. The bedding set referred to as futon in Japan fundamentally consists of a shikibuton (敷き布団 bottom mattress) and a kakebuton (掛け布団 thick quilted bedcover). The word futon is an English loanword derived from Japanese futon (布団 or 蒲団) . It is Sino-Japanese, originally meaning 'round cushions filled with cattail flower spikes'; it is derived from Chinese fu or pu (蒲 cattail) + ton or tuan (団 round).
A futon is a flat mattress with a fabric exterior stuffed with cotton, wool, or synthetic batting that makes up a Japanese bed. Futons are sold in Japan at speciality stores called futon'ya as well as at department stores. They are often sold in sets that include the futon mattress (shikibuton), a comforter (kakebuton) or blanket (毛布 mōfu), a summer blanket resembling a large towel (タオルケット taoruketto), and a pillow (枕 makura) generally filled with beans, buckwheat chaff, or plastic beads. Futons are designed to be placed on tatami flooring, and are traditionally folded away and stored in a closet during the day to allow the tatami to breathe and to allow for flexibility in the use of the room. Futons must be aired in sunlight regularly, especially if not put away during the day. In addition, many Japanese beat their futons regularly to prevent the padding from matting. They use a futon tataki (布団叩き), a special instrument, traditionally made from bamboo, resembling a Western carpet beater.
Futon are available in single, semi-double, and double sizes.
The Western futon is based on the Japanese original, with several major differences. It is almost always placed on a configurable wood or metal frame for dual use as a bed and a chair or couch. Typically, the frame folds in the middle, allowing the futon to be used as a couch, and flattens for use as a bed. It is usually filled with foam as well as batting, often in several layers, and is often much thicker and larger than Japanese futons, resembling a traditional mattress in size. Western-style futons are an alternative to a bed or other furniture, and are often sold in sets that include the mattress and frame. Futons normally feature a removable and replaceable cover in a variety of colours to match evolving modern decorating tastes. Western Futon mattress fillings vary from the economical offcut pieces of foam, to the higher quality eco-friendly natural fillings of felt and wool.
In Japanese, a zabuton (za, sitting + futon) is a square, thin cushion for sitting on instead of a chair when one sits at a small, 30 cm (1 ft)-high table in a tatami room.
- Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan, entry for "bedding".
- Webster’s New World College Dictionary (Macmillan, 1997: ISBN 0-02-861674-X).