What is the correct manner regarding ”tatami”?

2018-12-19 LIFE , MANNER

This post is also available in 日本語

The ”tatami” mannerism unique to Japan?

One of rooms in a traditional Japanese house is a washitsu, a Japanese-style room. When you visit a Japanese house, you may be shown to a washitsu. The first thing you notice there will be “tatami” covering the whole floor.

There are some must dos and must-not dos when you enter the tatami room. Some acts which are frequently mentioned are that you shouldn’t step on borders of tatami, and that you should take footwears off. Why these manners have to be observed?

As a matter of fact, the tatami manner is not fully understood by all Japanese people. Ever if we have a knowledge of this, we tend to behave otherwise. You will be praised of your good manner when you study and learn the origin of tatami and the mannerism about it.
You will see here what you should know when you visit a Japanese-style tatami room.

What is tatami ?

Traditional Japanese floor material with a rich scent

Tatami is traditionally used in Japan for flooring. It is made from (a rush a plant with long stems) and a thread into the flat mat surface. However, these days, stronger material which are tick repellent and anti-suntan are used.

Tatami made from a rush has a distinctive fresh and green smell which along with the serene interior of a Japanese room gives you a very peaceful mind. Many people become fond of washitsu.

How do you cover the floor with tatami ?

Tatami comes in a square or rectangular form and is adjusted to fit the size and shape of the room, unlike one sheet of a carpet to cover the whole floor. In most cases, tatamis are arranged side by side so as not to have all corners gather at the same spot, called “the congratulating format.” This may be rearranged to “the funeral format” in case of a funeral.

The origin of tatami

The tatami flooring is said to be seen only in Japan, not elsewhere in the world. In ancient years, tatami was made by yarning plants into a thin mat which was folded and kept at the corner of a room when not in use. This seems to be the etymology of “tatami”, which means “to fold.”

Among the noble class in the Heian Era (circa 794-1192), the thicker mat like the one we have present days became in use, and then in the Kamakura Era (circa 1192-1333), it transformed to a flooring material similar to a bed and a cushion. During the Muromachi Era (1336-1573), the “zashiki”, tatami room, fully covered with tatami became common. Thereafter when many people started to enjoy the tea ceremony, the format of tatami was gradually established.

Let’s learn the tatami mannerism”

Taking off footwear on tatami, WHY?

It is a Japanese manner to take off your slippers when you walk on tatami.  Many people are annoyed to see people stepping on tatami with slippers on. One of the reasons for this comes from the fact that you use slippers when walking on a corridor, not in a tatami room.
A corridor is a place to move around without settling there. A Japanese room with tatami  provides a space for sleeping or sitting comfortably. Japanese have a unique sense to design rooms separately depending on the usage of them.

Another reason is that dragging your slippered feet may damage tatami and make it dirty. As tatami is made from natural rush, it will be damaged by dirt and moisture. Therefore it’s necessary to take slippers off to maintain the tatami for a long period of time.

It also is not a good manner to walk on tatami barefooted. With the same reason mentioned above, barefoot may damage tatami. You want to put socks on or bring a pare with you when entering a tatami room.

Do not step on the edge of tatami

The edges are covered by cloth to protect the tatame from wearing and/or to fill the gaps between tatamis. The color and pattern of the edge cloth in ancient days varied depending of the social class of the owner but you can choose your likings nowadays.

What is the reason for not stepping on the edge? There are various views on this issue. One view is that the pattern of the edge is the symbol of the family and must be respected. As the patterns hold the family crest and the various living creatures, there are sayings, “It is impolite to step on the family crest,” and “It’s not right to step on creatures.”

Also, the edge is fragile and easily discolored or worn out when stepped on. The edge let you notice there’s a gap so that you don’t trip there. Thus, there are rational meanings surrounding the manners relating to “tatami.”