What are Japanese floor mattresses and are they healthy to sleep on?

A woman with brown hair lies on her stomach on a grey colour Japanese floor mattress
(Image credit: MAXYOYO)

As a sleep writer, I know how important the right mattress is for a good night’s sleep. The best mattresses can provide all the proper support, relief and design you need at night, so does this mean they can still provide this comfort without a bed base?

To find the closest thing to a baseless bed for on-the-go support, I’ve looked to the Japanese floor mattress (otherwise known as a shikibuton). These practical mattresses have been a sleep staple in Japan for centuries, and their foldable design means they're great for guests, small homes, and moving days.

But are Japanese floor mattresses right for you? Here, I’ll discuss what these space-saving mattresses are, who they’re for, and why you should (and shouldn’t) get your hands on one.  

What is a Japanese floor mattress? 

A Japanese floor mattress (or shikibuton) is a rectangular, quilted pad that resembles a slimmer version of a memory foam mattress. Designed so you can lay it directly on the floor when sleeping and roll it up when not in use, these mattresses are a cost-effective alternative to traditional beds as they don’t require a bed frame. 

Their thin, foldable design means they are easy to set up and put away, and they are often used by overnight guests or those who’ve just moved into an unfurnished space. In Japan, floor mattresses are typically laid out onto a tatami (a type of straw mat) to add some comfort and keep the mattress dry by absorbing moisture . 

Are they the same as Japanese futons? 

Yes, Japanese floor mattresses are the same as Japanese futons. Japanese futons are often called Japanese floor mattresses to distinguish them from western-style futons (commonly referred to as just “futons” in the US). Despite that the traditional definition of a futon reflects the Japanese-style futon, its westernized counterpart is several inches thicker, less compact, and bears more resemblance to a sofa bed. 

A caucasian woman sleeps on her stomach on a white Japanese floor mattress

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Are Japanese floor mattresses healthy to sleep on? 

According to Healthline, Japanese floor mattresses tend to be firmer than traditional beds, and their naturally firm level of support promotes deep sleep by allowing natural spine alignment to reduce back pain, improve blood circulation and posture, and relieve muscle aches and stiffness. 

The health information provider also points out that authentic Japanese floor mattresses are often free from synthetic materials and flame retardants (such as potentially dangerous flame retardant fiberglass), and are made from non-toxic hypoallergenic materials. 

Benefits of a Japanese floor mattress

With a thin, foldable design that doesn’t require a bed frame, a Japanese floor mattress is a cost-effective and space-saving sleep solution for smaller houses, studio apartments, and tiny bedrooms. Once you’ve finished snoozing, simply roll it up, put it away, and enjoy the freed-up space during the daytime. It’s practical, compact design also means it’s great for accommodating unexpected overnight guests or relocating to a different house, apartment, or dorm room. 

The firmness of these floor mattresses also mean they are particularly great for back and stomach sleepers as they support the hips and prevent them from dipping and sagging (which can misalign the spine and cause lower back pain). They also provide temperature regulation for hot sleepers, thanks to their light, breathable materials and close proximity to the floor. 

Drawbacks of a Japanese floor mattress

While Japanese floor mattresses are much easier to clean than traditional beds, they do need to be aired out on a regular basis, preferably outdoors in direct sunlight, to kill bacteria and prevent moisture from building up. While it is common to see futons airing out on balconies in Japan, sunning your futon may not be as easy if you don’t have the outdoor space or live in a rainy climate. 

Storage room is another issue. A Japanese floor mattress can save you a lot of space in your living room, bedroom, or studio apartment, but only if you have the storage space. Plus, if you’re not fond of making your bed every morning, then putting away and setting up your futon every day is even more of a hassle —- especially if you like the feeling of coming home to a ready-made bed after a long day.  

There’s also its firm feeling. While some like their mattresses to be on the firm side, others enjoy that soft, sink-in feeling of a plush bed, so you may find a futon too firm and uncomfortable if you’re in the latter group. 

Do you need a bed base with a Japanese floor mattress? 

No, you don’t need a bed base for your Japanese floor mattress. The beauty of a Japanese floor mattress is that you can put it directly on the floor and save money and space. However, the Japanese futon’s portable design means they can be placed anywhere, including a bed frame. A low platform bed base works well with a floor mattress if you don’t have a tatami, while a base with slats can provide proper ventilation that a tatami would usually provide.  

A woman sits on a mattress that has been placed directly onto the floor to make it firmer

(Image credit: Getty)

Should you put a mattress directly on the floor? 

There are issues with putting a mattress directly on the floor for sleeping. As it's not elevated from the ground, the mattress is more exposed to all the dirt from the floor, which could lead to allergens building up. Also, as there’s no ventilation from a bed frame below the mattress, the restricted air circulation means moisture can build up and encourage mold and mildew to grow on the mattress.

However, a tatami mat is a great solution to these issues, as it puts an extra layer between your mattress and floor, and an authentic tatami can actually prevent moisture build-up and add extra comfort to hard flooring. Also, make sure to clean and air out your futon regularly to keep it hygienic. 

Who shouldn’t use a Japanese floor mattress? 

While the firm support of a floor mattress may be great for back, stomach, and heavyweight sleepers, those who prefer to sleep on their side or have a lightweight body may find these beds uncomfortable on their pressure points, including hips and shoulders. 

The mattresses’ lack of elevation means that those with mobility issues may also need to avoid, as getting up and down onto the floor may cause some discomfort or inaccessibility.  

Where to buy Japanese floor mattresses 

There are many places to buy a Japanese floor mattress online, with futons from top-rated futon brands being available on Amazon. Floor bedding brands FULI and MAXYOYO boast thousands of positive reviews on Amazon and are currently the most popular futon sellers on the site.  

FULI Japanese Futon Mattress:  $178 at Amazon

FULI Japanese Futon Mattress: from $178 at Amazon
Made in Japan, this futon mattress from traditional Japanese-style bedding brand FULI is available in 5 sizes (from twin to queen) and has medium firmness rating perfect for back sleepers. It’s also 100% breathable cotton, meaning hot sleepers should feel comfortable, and hypoallergenic for those with allergies. However, it’s not machine washable and does occasionally require you to lightly beat the mattress to remove dust. Still, FULI is the No.1 futon seller on Amazon in the US, and has thousands of five-star ratings.

MAXYOYO Japanese Floor Mattress: from $95.99 at Amazon

MAXYOYO Japanese Floor Mattress: from $95.99 at Amazon 
A cheaper alternative to FULI’s mattresses, this high-density memory foam futon is available in five sizes including king and cot. It also comes with a microfiber cover to help keep the futon free of dust and allergens. Like the FULI Futon Mattress, this futon is spot clean only and hot sleepers should be aware that memory foam does have a tendency to trap heat. However, considering its price and firm rating, this mattress is ideal for those looking for a foldable bed for students, travelers, and guests.   

Frances Daniels
Sleep Staff Writer

Frances Daniels recently joined the Tom's Guide team as Sleep Staff Writer, and her role includes covering all sleep and mattress news, in addition to mattress reviews and buyer's guides. Frances is a PPA-accredited journalist and is hugely interested in the relationship between good sleep and overall health. When not writing about sleep and mattresses for Tom's Guide, Frances enjoys writing about women's issues, health and wellbeing, the environment, and her native Wales.