The traditional Japanese house is beautiful, exotic and elegant. It is no wonder that many foreigners are enchanted at the thought of living inside a classic Japanese room. The Igusa grass interwoven in tatami mats is bluish-green when newly bought and it turns brown with time. It feels soft to walk on it with bare feet, cool in the summer and yet giving off a warmth to the spirit.
The shikibuton or mattress futon is extremely comfortable on a tatami yet not too soft that it keeps your back properly straight and not bent while sleeping. The feathers stuffed inside the kakebuton or duvet combined with the shikibuton keeps your body temperature stable. Once you sleep the whole night on a futon on a tatami floor you’ll find it is hard to rise up and get out of your futon in the morning.
As you move across rooms in a Japanese house you do not hear the metallic sound of doorknobs turning, but rather the muffled swoosh and slight tap of sliding shoji doors. In the morning, light streams in softly through the shoji paper in the door panels spreading soft light across rooms.
If you are attracted enough now to experience living in a traditional Japanese house or in a Japanese style room you ought to know how to take care of your house items. A Japanese room has a completely different way of cleaning. It is not so easy to replace parts of a Japanese room either as it is costly. One new Japanese room in a house is equivalent to 200,000 yen or more.
1. Taking Care of Your Futon.
Whether you are living in a Japanese room or not it is likely that you are using a futon for your bedding. If you do not care for your futon it will become moldy and have mites. You will feel itchy and uncomfortable with the smell as you sleep.
Once a week or at the least once a month, pick a sunny day to hang out your futon. Hang in the sun between 10 AM to 3 PM or otherwise, the moisture in the air will seep into your futon when hung too late in the afternoon. Hang one half of the futon for two hours and then turn it around to expose the other half into the sun. At both times, use a futon beater, which can be bought at the 100 yen store, to beat the dust out.
The duvet is much more delicate and does not have to beat. It only needs to be hung, along with the cover, out in the sun to kill any mites. DO NOT MACHINE WASH unless it says WASHABLE on the label. If you must have it cleaned, bring it to the cleaners. When putting away your futon in the morning, fold neatly and store on top of the sunoko or wooden plank.
2. Taking Care of Your Tatami Floor.
Use a dry cloth, never a wet rag, and wipe along the direction of the lines. On sunny days open the window wide to let the sunshine onto the tatami. Vacuum cleaning also works, but run the vacuum cleaner slowly, in the direction of the lines. The tatami does not do well with moisture or with liquid spills. If you spill something on a tatami, use tissue paper or kitchen paper right away to seep up the liquid. Another method is to scatter powder laundry soap over the spilled area, let the powders seep up the moisture, and then run the vacuum cleaner over.
3. How to Take Care of Your Kotatsu.
If you have one of these magical tables in your house, you will understand how people in the house will tend to gravitate towards the place under its blanket in search of warmth. The whole household will want to do everything from reading, watching tv, napping and studying with their legs tucked warmly under the kotatsu. The kotatsu is a low table with a stove attached underneath. The futon envelopes the sides of the table to keep warmth well preserved under this table. When everyone has left home in the morning, always make sure to fold the futon up onto the table to aerate and dry the moisture caused by sweat gathered up underneath. Spray deodorant and antibacterial spray onto the area beneath the futon or mites will find a comfortable living space under your kotatsu.
Well before the start of the winter season have the futon washed at the cleaners, or wash it yourself if it’s washable. Turn the kotatsu table upside down with the cord unplugged to clean the dust off of the stove part. Use a rubber cleaning glove and cloth garden gloves to wipe off the dirt.
4. Cleaning the Shoji Doors.
The frame should be gathering dust. Wipe away this dust with a dry handy mop. The Japanese paper has to be changed once a year. Check with the owner of your apartment, if you are living in one if you can assist with replacing the shoji paper.
When that time comes take the whole door off of its sliding groove and lay down on newspapers or on the dining table. First, the old shoji paper needs to come off. Use a sponge and moisten all the squares of the wooden frame. Wait for 2 minutes for the shoji glue to dissolve. When it looks ready to take one corner of the shoji paper and gently peel it off of the frame.
Clean the frame thoroughly with one wet and one dry rag. You might be surprised at how much dust and dirt could be gathered on a DOOR. New shoji paper can be bought in rolls at a home center. When you have one ready place the paper on the frame and tape one edge of the shoji paper in three places onto the top of the frame. Place plenty of shoji glue around each square one row at a time. Each time one row is well glued unroll the appropriate area of the shoji paper onto the glued areas and repeat until the whole door is covered. Wait until the glue is half dried before cutting out extra paper jutting out from the frame. When the paper is dried, put the door back into its place.
Once you understand the procedure for maintaining your Japanese house items cleaning them will not be much trouble. Living in a Western-style room might be easier but experiencing Japanese culture in its most mundane of living items like bedding and flooring is quite rewarding if you have the time and energy. Try it while you are in Japan.