by Ewa Nowogorski
Tatami mats are both loved and hated by people both Japanese and not Japanese.
These mats, made out of a grass called rush, are elegant in appearance and give rooms a beautiful oriental appearance. Many houses and apartments that are 30 years or older have at least one room with tatami mats. But while they may seem appealing to the naked eye, they have some downsides to them that you should be aware of.
Firstly, tatami mats come in a more or less standard size, and most rooms in Japan are made to scale with the number of tatami mats. But if you have a western room that is not rectangular or square with the proper measurements, you will not be able to convert your room into a tatami room. Secondly, tatami are not exactly cheap. Buying one domestically will set you back 8,000~14,000 yen ($80~$140 USD) per mat, making them not that much cheaper than flooring. They are also incredibly heavy. Thirdly, tatami mats are extremely prone to denting, mold, and insects. It really makes you wonder how these became popular in a country that has an insanely humid climate and is rampant with bugs. But placing havy furniture on these mats is out of the question, and computer chairs with castors are all but useless. You can never drag furniture as it might rip and scratch the surface straw, permanently damaging it.
Tatami mats cannot be kept in a humid environment, and they should also not be exposed to direct sunlight, or the color of the mat will be affected. One more thing to add is that you can never spill anything on these mats, because the liquid will seep through and make the mat even more prone to mold. Once a serious amount of mold sets in, there is no fixing these mats, and they will have to be replaced. These mats cannot be cleaned easily, and must be handled with care. They are definitely not the ideal type of flooring for brutes and careless folks.
Tatami also have a grassy smell to them when they are green and fresh. To me it smells almost like a pet store that is full of cat litter and different grassy bedding for rodents. It is a rather strong smell. Some people like the smell, while others hate it.
After learning about all the hazards and cons of tatami mats, you might wonder why people would want to use them in the first place. Well, aesthetics is one major reason. They truly are beautiful, and I personally like the look much more than conventional wood flooring. Another reason why you will see them in old buildings especially even after they have been remodeled numerous times is that tatami are great insulators of both heat and sound. They are thick so they muffle footsteps really well. People walking over them will not disturb the neighbors downstairs. They also act as great temperature insulators. During the summer, they stay cool, but still absorb heat, making the air temperature of the room slightly lower. And in the winter, the mats release the heat that they have stored up, warming up the room. They also don’t feel as cold as wood floors.