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Japanese Bedroom Design: Traditional & Contemporary Bedrooms In Japan

A Japanese bedroom ('washitsu' = old-style Japanese room) is a bedroom only by night.  It is designed to be multi-functional.  Furnished with tatami  floor mats and fitted wall closets, it contains no particular bedroom furniture or decor.

Similar bedroom designs here: Cool & simple Asian inspired bedrooms / vibrant Asian-Theme bedroon designs / Zen Bedroom ideas (non-Japanese).

traditional Japanese room (washitsu) with futon
Washitsu  (= Japanese style room) in Kyoto-shi, Kyoto Prefecture (Japan):
Traditional futon  bedding on a tatami  floor.  © Mathieu Thouvenin

Here is the same room as above, but set with portable dining furniture:

traditional Japanese room (washitsu) set for a meal
Japanese washitsu, set for a meal.  © Mathieu Thouvenin

Traditional Japanese bedding is always laid out directly on the floor mats. There is no slatted frame or bedstead. Therefore, shoes are taboo in a washitsu.

traditional Japanese rooms (washitsu) with futon
Traditional Japanese bedrooms.  © left: Josh; right: Christian Kadluba

A Japanese bed (=futon)  consists of:

(1)  The shikibuton  (bottom mattress - in the photo right, it's a stack of three!) The shikibuton  is traditionally filled with cotton batting. What's called a 'futon' in the West is basically a thicker, chunkier version of the shikibuton.

(2)  The makura  (pillow), which is stuffed with buckwheat husks or beans, or - in these modern times - with plastic beads;

(3)  The kakebuton  is the comforter, to which you can add a mofu  (blanket) when it's cold.

For centuries, this has been how you make your bed in Japan. Whether you're an aristocrat, a farmer, an office worker or a Zen monk, you spread your futon  directly onto the tatami  floor mats. One mat (roughly 3'x 6') counts as the sleeping space for one person.

Japanese bedroom (washitsu), 1890s
Japanese bedroom, c. 1890s   © New York Public Library

This historic photo of a Japanese bedroom dates from the 1890s - and it's obviously staged - but you can clearly see that the general setup of a Japanese bedroom hasn't changed much in the past 120+ years!

Every morning, the entire futon  is folded, stacked & stowed into one of the built-in closets. That way, you free the room up for other purposes. (More about this in an artcile about Zen Interiors, coming soon!)

traditional Japanese futon
Futon, piled up (© Josh Newman) & stashed away (© Sean)

For hygienic reasons, a futon needs to be exposed to sunlight and aired regularly. This is the typical look of Japanese neighborhoods on a fine day:

futons airing in traditional Japanese homes
Futon  airing in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture (Japan).  © Jean-François Chénier

Contemporary Japanese Bedroom Design:
Creating A Calm, Elegant Space

Below are three contemporary versions of the traditional Japanese bedroom. They're quite different in style, but all are gorgeous, and you could easily copy elements of the look in a Western home.

idea for asian inspired bedrooms
Tatami  bedroom in Shuzenji, Honshu (Japan).  © Richie Johns

This is a slightly westernized tatami  bedroom:

  • Even though there are no bedframes, the thin, cotton shikibuton have been replaced by thick, Western-style mattresses. (They look as if they were meant to stay on the floor during the day, rather than be folded up and tucked away);
  • There's a nightstand with a Western-style table lamp;
  • The sleeping area is on a raised tatami  platform;
  • Instead of the traditional floor lanterns (see below), there's a string of LED lighting installed under the platform rim. It visually 'lifts' the platform off the ground and gives the room an ethereal look.

Next up, a very interesting contemporary Japanese room design where the shoji sliding door looks like a large window treatment in the wall.  There's not a single tatami  mat in sight, but the look is unmistakeably Japanese.  Also, note the floor level lighting (more of which below):

idea for asian inspired bedrooms
Contemporary Japanese bedroom in Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture (Japan):
The entrance is concealed by a sliding shoji  screen.  © left & right: Marc Phu

Because of their striking looks, shoji (and so-called tatami beds) are used in the West as can't-fail ingredients for Asian inspired bedrooms.

Finally, here's an entirely contemporary Japanese 'Zen bedroom': a sleeping-dining-entertaining-meditation area in a tiny open-plan apartmment in Tokyo:

contemporary bedroom in Japan, a tatami room, dining room and meditation space
Tatami area in an open-plan apartment in Tokyo (Japan).  © bakoko

As you can see in the smaller photo to the right, this 'bedroom' is open to the rest of the apartment. However, it retains the feel of a separate space by virtue of the tatami flooring. The beautiful new green mats don't have the traditional tape edging to avoid unnecessary pattern in this small space.

Atmospheric Decor For A Japanese Bedroom

In the days before electricity, a floor lantern used to be the main light source in a Japanese bedroom. Here's an electric version:

Japanese floor lantern with tatami mat and futon
Japanese bedroom in Arashiyama, Kyoto (Japan):
Floor lantern on tatami  mats.  © Steven Luftman

Another atmospheric element that continues to be used in contemporary Japanese bedroom design is a shoji screen. Here's a closeup of the design:

japanese shoji screens
Shoji & lattice screens. (© left: Mrhayata, © right: Michael Cornelius)

Shoji are used in Japanese interiors ...

  • as sliding/hanging doors for rooms and built-in closets;
  • as window coverings, and
  • as room dividers.
  • (If you want to create fitted shoji screens for your windows, built-in closets or sliding doors, do check out these SHOJI books on Amazon.)

Related Pages (Click A Pic):

Japanese Decorating: Bookshop

If you would like to add a traditional Japanese touch to your home, check out this mini bookshop (in partnership with Amazon):

For not-necessarily-Asian-inspired 'Zen bedroom' designs, try a book or two from this collection:

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