More on Tatami
Sensuous and unique, tatami mats are a traditional form of carpeting found in homes around Japan and are deeply rooted in Japanese and Oriental culture. In the 12th century, tatami mats were luxury goods used by emperors, nobles, religious leaders and high-ranking officials.
It is said that tatami came in a variety of thickness and size, with the color of the fabric used on edges showing the rank of the individual household that owned it. This custom carried on until the 17th century, when tatami found their way into the homes of ordinary people.
Simple straw sleeping mats preceded tatami. In a quest for comfort, these simple grass mats were made gradually thicker and tatami evolved. In the 15th and 16th centuries, people began to use them as a form of floor covering for the first time--marking an evolution in people's way of life and giving birth to Japan's unique tatami culture.
There are three different parts to an authentic tatami mat--the reed or rush cover, the straw core and the decorative cloth edging. In Japanese these are the tatami omote, tatami goto and the tatami beri. The tatami omote is made of a soft reed and each one needs about 4,000 to 5,000 rushes. Hemp or cotton string is then used to weave the omote together. To make the tatami goto or straw core, 40cm of straw is crushed to just five centimeters. Finally, cloth is used to border the mats.
You could say that in olden times, Japanese life centered around tatami. Sleeping, eating, playing, working, entertaining guests all too place in elegant tatami-carpeted rooms. tatami mats can be triangular, rectangular or square, and even octagonal. The size of the tatami mat would depend on where you lived. In Kyoto, Kyoma mats (roughly 6ft. by 3ft.) were used, while in the East Edoma (5ft. x 8ft.) were more popular.
Tatami mats also have health benefits. The tatami's straw inner-core is squashed tight and full of air. This makes it very effective at absorbing heat. According to studies by Japanese scholars, a tatami mat can also absorb 500cc of water from the air. And if the atmosphere is dry, the water will naturally evaporate. Tatami is made of soft reed and according to traditional Chinese medicine it calms the spirit and the natural smell will relax the body and soothe the mind.
When fitting tatami mats, you have to pay attention to certain rules because the number and layout of tatami mats can bring good or bad fortune. The mats shouldn't be laid in a grid pattern, as it will bring bad luck. The only time this layout can be used is during mourning. In Japan, the size of a room is usually measured by the number of tatami mats. Many shops are designed to be the size of "five and half tatami mats," as this will ensure you have good fortune no matter what kind of business you are in.
Through the use of tatami, the Japanese have given birth to a unique way of living. Tatami mats are associated with Japanese religious rites and the tea ceremony. these fascinating every day objects can also set people on the way to spiritual enlightenment! The concept of a tatami room is deep rooted in the Japanese culture. It is very unique and speaks for the discipline and health consciousness of the Japanese.
[Source: Taiwan International Free News (TIFN) Vol. 2 #4 - May 2001]