I really like the traditional Japanese floor covering known as tatami. There are three parts to each tatami mat; the tightly woven rush cover, a soft core that was traditionally made of rice straw but is often made of synthetic material today, and a decorative cloth edging that is most often a green brocade. Each mat is a standard size, approximately 90 x 180 cm. Except during a period of mourning, tatami mats are never laid in a simple grid pattern. Since it’s considered bad luck to allow three or more mat corners to meet, they’re always laid in interesting patterns.
Tatami provides at least as much cushioning as carpet, making it a comfortable floor to sit on and providing extra padding under the futon mats that we sleep on. I also exercise on the tatami every morning and find that it provides all the padding I need. Tatami is also thought to have a number of health benefits. Apparently, it absorbs both heat and humidity, a definite plus in this climate. The natural smell is said to relax the body and soothe the mind. This smell, which is really quite pleasant, is most noticeable when the tatami is new.
Tatami is amazingly easy to keep clean. It just needs to be vacuumed regularly and if anything does spill on it, it beads up and can be wiped away without leaving a mark.
Given all of the above, what’s not to like about tatami? My only complaint is that it harbours insects! Last spring, when my friend, Seiko, and I went shopping for the various products needed to prevent or do battle with moths, mold and cockroaches, she warned me about this problem and showed me what to buy if we found we needed it. If you start to notice insect bites that you can’t explain, she told me, they’re likely living in your tatami! We’ve managed to live through the rainy season and most of the hot, humid summer without encountering a cockroach but I did begin to notice itchy bites awhile back. We purchased the spray which comes in a can with a pin-like nozzle that is pushed down into the tatami mat to deliver the poison to the inner portion of the mat. We treated the entire tatami room and hoped for the best.
Shortly after our return from Korea, however, I began to notice new bites appearing. Once again, Richard gave the tatami room a thorough spraying. Imagine my disgust a little while later when I noticed that the centre mat was littered with dead and dying insects that had crawled out of the matting to escape the poison! I had heard these insects referred to as fleas or ticks so I had visualized tiny flea-like critters but these were winged insects about the size of a mosquito. Some were considerably bigger and they’d been biting me during the night! How gross! Richard vacuumed them up and decided to treat the centre of the room a second time just in case we hadn’t massacred the entire population yet. That was several days ago. This morning, he’s just finished treating the room once again and we intend to keep this up on a regular basis for a little while just in case there are more nasties hatching out below the surface.
While we’re on the topic of insects, there are plenty of unusual ones here in Japan. Some time back, I blogged about the tiny moths that had taken up residence in our bathroom. Once Richard figured out how to remove the panel in front of the bathtub and cleaned out the buildup of hair and slime under there, we were rid of those. The sink and tub both drain into that area and the moths must have been breeding in the dampness. (Have I mentioned how blessed I am to have a husband who does housework?)
We’ve also been entertained all summer by the loud high-pitched sound of the cicadas, gigantic locust-like insects that inhabit the trees all around us. Not all the insects here are as obnoxious, however. We also have butterflies that are literally the size of small birds! How beautiful!