[From July Issue 2012]
You could say that traditional Japanese rooms naturally derive their beautifully simple ambience from tatami flooring. Tatami is made of three components: the surface known as tatami omote, the inner part called tatami doko, and the edging, tatami beri. The surface is made of igusa, a species of rush that has been used in Japan for around 2000 years.
The inner part of the tatami is about 5.5 centimeters thick and is made from straw. The material used for the edging binds the inner part to the surface of the mat. Depending on the purpose of the tatami, the material for the border can be made of cotton, linen or silk. The fabric is decorated with typical Japanese patterns that enhance the beauty of the tatami mat.
Tatami mats are of a fixed size of 174 centimeters long and 87 centimeters wide (in the east of Japan) and are also used for measuring square footage. The length of a tatami mat is always exactly twice as long as its width. The size of a room is measured in tsubo (3.3 square meters). One tsubo is equivalent to the size of two tatami mats.
Tatami were first used as cushions to elevate the person with the highest status. It was later customary to use it as flooring for tea ceremony rooms and then was more widely used in normal rooms. Shoes are not permitted on tatami. Furthermore, you should not place your feet on top of the border. There are also regulations concerning how far the chawan (teacup) should be from the edge of the tatami.
The use of tatami is waning: modern apartments and houses might have only one tatami room, or none at all. Tatami is usually made locally by small businesses, who are now seeking new practical applications for tatami. Products such as tatami cell phone and iPad covers, tatami clocks, or vase coasters, have recently appeared and are becoming more and more popular, not only amongst foreigners, but also with Japanese.
Text: Nicolas SOERGEL