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.
Here is the same room as above, but set with portable dining furniture:
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.
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.
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!)
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:
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.
This is a slightly westernized tatami bedroom:
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):
Finally, here's an entirely contemporary Japanese 'Zen bedroom': a sleeping-dining-entertaining-meditation area in a tiny open-plan apartmment in Tokyo:
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.
In the days before electricity, a floor lantern used to be the main light source in a Japanese bedroom. Here's an electric version:
Another atmospheric element that continues to be used in contemporary Japanese bedroom design is a shoji screen. Here's a closeup of the design:
Shoji are used in Japanese interiors ...
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: