Written for Just Bedding by Claudia Vilches.
The futon is a traditional style of Japanese bedding which originated in the 13th century and is a still a common bed choice for many Japanese people. The earliest beds in Japan were used by mostly by wealthy people, such as noble families, and were made from rich fabrics such as silk. Lower classes usually slept on hard mats on the floor.
By the 17th Century, people had started to make futons by stuffing materials into large sacks, however improvements were made to the design with the growth of the cotton industry. Soon a typical futon bed consisted of a shikibuton, kakebuton and makura. The shikibuton is the mattress, which is stuffed with cotton for a firm but smooth and cushioned feeling. A traditional Japanese futon mattress is around 2-3 inches thick. The kakebuton is a covering, much like a quilt or doona, and the makura, a pillow filled with dried beans or beads, giving support to the head and neck.
In Japanese culture, it is normal to place the futon on the floor at night only. During the day, the futon mattress is neatly rolled away and stored, or sometimes used as extra seating. This is important in many Japanese homes as space can be limited and a room may be used for multiple purposes.
In the Western world, the word futon is usually used to describe a wooden frame with mattress placed on top. Futon beds like these can usually be folded to create a sofa or a bed and are useful in homes where an extra guest bed is sometimes needed, or for people who have limited funds to furnish their home.