Tuesday 6 June 2017

Fuka-Fuka Futons

Multiple futons hanging over the balcony to air in a large apartment block
Futons hanging over the balcony to air  in an apartment block
When the weather is nice most Japanese take the opportunity to air and sterilise their futons by hanging them on their apartment or house balcony, pictured right and below respectively. One survey found that three in four Japanese hang out their futon at least once a month, with most people airing it between one and three times a week. Many private apartments, however, including my own, now forbid this practice for aesthetic and/or safety reasons requiring one to buy a special stand (futon-hoshi). I have even seen futons placed on cars in the driveway to air! In order to prevent them falling or blowing off they are typically secured with clips (futon-basami) as visible below. Before being brought in they are typically hit with a futon-tataki  beater to remove dust, pollen, and dead house ticks, though some say this damages the futon. Undeniably, a futon that has been out in the sun all day is delightful to sleep on - the Japanese describe such as futon as fuka-fuka, onomatopoeia for soft and fluffy.

Two top and two bottom futons clipped firmly to the balcony on the second floor of a house
Futons clipped to the second floor balcony of a house
The word futon (布団) actually refers to two pieces: the bottom futon (shiki-buton or 敷布団 - the verb shiku means to spread or lay out) and the top futon or duvet (kake-buton or 掛け布団 - the verb kakeru has many meanings including "to cover"). It is usually more important to air the bottom futon, because this is the one touching the floor and more likely to get mouldy, especially in the humid summer months, though if there is space the duvet is often aired too. Apart from the health benefits of sleeping on a hard mattress - good for the back and spine - they also have the advantage of being easy to clear away in the morning. Thus, futons will usually be folded and put away in the closet, making space to use that room for other purposes during the day. On the other hand, older people can find it tough getting up off the floor, so many senior citizens in Japan switch to a bed later in life.