What you should know about tatami
If you go to someone’s house in Japan, you will most likely find at least one room, usually called a “washitsu” where the floor is covered by tatami, woven straw mats. Tatami is an integral part of Japanese culture and many of us associate it with Japan. Ryokan, traditional Japanese-style inns, are popular among foreigners for the ultimate Japanese experience of sleeping on a tatami floor in a futon.
But did you known there are certain customs that one must follow while walking in a tatami room. Let’s find out!
Ninja and tatami
In the olden days when houses were made of wood and all the rooms had tatami, there would often be a hidden room in the basement. One of the tatami mat could be lifted to reveal a secret passage or room.
Ninja would hide in one of these rooms. When the enemy would walk in the room above, the light filtering through the slim gaps would be blocked and the ninja would know exactly where the enemy was. This feature in the house was particularly useful during wars.
Family Crests and tatami
The border of a tatami mat has motifs. In Japan, each family has a crest indicating the family’s lineage and heritage, and is a symbol of that family. There are about 241 categories and apparently 5,116 family crests in Japan.
The border sometimes has the family crest woven or printed and therefore stepping on the border is a direct act of disrespect to the family’s ancestors.
Wear and tear
Tatami are quite delicate and the border of a tatami mat can easily get damaged. If people tread on it, the mat eventually loses its shape as it gets twisted over time. To preserve the structure of the mat, it is best you do not step on it.