How to Choose the Right Size Bed in Japan

They say that humans spend one-third of their lives in bed. But recently, I’ve spent nearly that same amount of time just trying to figure out which size of bedsheets to buy. I never struggled that much with sheets in America. For adults, the choices are usually Full and Queen. Or is it Twin and Queen? No wait, I mean Single. And what about Double: Is it the same as Twin or Full? And then there’s the whole King / California King fiasco.

Unfortunately, things aren’t any easier in Japan, at least if you are in the market for a western-style bed. The names are similar to their US counterparts, but not the sizes, as shown in the following table (sizes in centimeters).

Bed SizeJapanUS
Single (Japan) / Twin (US)97 × 19596.5 × 188
Double (Japan) / Full (US)140 × 195134.5 × 190.5
Queen160 × 195152 × 203.5
King194 × 195193 × 203.5

Japan also has Semi-Double (122 × 195) and Wide-Double (152 × 195), neither of which have American equivalents. And a mattress salesman here assured me that Queen and King sizes in Japan are not standardized, so all bets are off when buying those sheets. Actually, I meant “sheet” instead of “sheets.” In the US, sheets come in two flavors: flat and fitted. But in Japan, flat sheets are rare, and you typically just buy the fitted sheet (すっぽりシーツ).

It has to do with the layout of Japanese futons, which typically have these layers.

  • A foldable pad, about four or five centimeters thick, is put directly onto the floor or tatami mat.
  • A fluffier mattress known as shikibuton (敷き布団) goes on the pad.
  • A sheet is used to cover the shikibuton. It might be flat or fitted, but in either case it serves the same purposes as a fitted sheet on western beds, that of providing a washable separation between you and the mattress.
  • Depending on the weather, next comes the blanket. This will either be a mōfu (毛布), a warm, thick covering essential for cold winter nights; or a towelket (タオルケット, a portmanteau of “towel” and “blanket”), a summertime towel-like thing that doesn’t trap in any heat.
  • Finally, the entire setup is covered in a kakebuton (掛け布団), a duvet that, especially in winter, adds an extra layer of warmth. Sometimes the kakebuton is placed in its own zippered covering—essentially two thin sheets sown together with a hole on one end—to keep this more costly item clean.

When you fall into a futon bed, you land between the shikibuton covering and the blanket layer. In America, we often insert a flat sheet just below any blanket, so that we become the filling between the fitted sheet below and the flat sheet above. For many in Japan, that top-level flat sheet does not exist. Instead, you are covered by the blanket layer directly.

Another impact from floor-based futons is the lack of box springs in most western-style beds sold in Japan. But they make up for it by offering sobagara no makura (そば殻の枕), a neck-friendly pillow filled with buckwheat chaff that, for me, makes just the right amount of crunching noise to keep me awake all night long.

In the end, shopping in Japan for a western-style mattress or its toppings is not really that hard, as long as you are comfortable with the slightly shorter length and sheet arrangements based on local customs.

[Image Credits: FineGraphics/photo-ac.com]

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Tim Patrick

Tim Patrick is an author, software developer, and the host of Japan Everyday. He has published a dozen books and hundreds of articles covering technology, current events, and now life in Japan. Find his latest books at OwaniPress.com.

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