The Japanese Shikibuton
A shikibuton (sometimes called a “shiki futon”) refers to the actual mattress portion of a Japanese futon. It is customary for the shiki futon to be placed directly on tatami flooring then folded and placed out of sight throughout the day for versatility in the room.
The majority of shikibutons are between 3″ – 4″ thick, roughly half the thickness of Western futons, making for a good firm bed. (Note: Some side sleepers consider the shikibuton too thin to sleep comfortably without a tri fold mattress.)
While traditionally the shikibuton was made with 100% cotton, today’s materials vary and may contain a combination of wool, latex, foam, or other synthetic materials. Absolutely no shikibutons incorporate metal inner springs though, unlike most Western futons which can lead to back pain and other forms of discomfort.
If you know how to care for your shikibuton properly, plan on it outliving your mattress. A properly cared for shikibuton should last between 8 – 15 years, with some brands such as J-Life lasting longer than 20.
Before we get to the recommendations, check the pros and cons of owning a shikibuton to determine whether it’s right for you.
- Beautiful minimalist design
- Portable and great for limited space
- Safe for children (can’t jump on / fall off of the bed)
- Make excellent guest beds
- Require more care than a traditional mattress
- Can be tedious for some to take out and fold away each day
- Some may find it too firm, especially without a tri fold mattress pad
Best Budget Shiki Futon: D&D Futon Furniture
D&D Futon Furniture offers a shiki futon perfect for anyone on a tight budget. With such an excellent price range, this is the best product available for a budget cotton shikibuton without compromising quality. Straps have been attached at the foot of the futon making it even easier to pack up and go.
As you would expect, such a great deal does come with a few drawbacks. D&D Futon Furniture’s shiki futon isn’t washable, so if you want it to last you’ll have to cover it with a fitted sheet. In order to comply with California’s consumer protection laws these futons have been treated with fire retardant chemicals and have a strong smell at first, though this quickly goes away after hanging in the sun.
All things considered, this shiki futon is still the #1 pick for college students, frequent travelers, and anyone looking for something that just plain works.
- Great value for the price
- Straps for quick and easy travel
- Not washable
- Initial fire retardant smell
Best Traditional Shiki Futon: J-Life
J-Life is well known for providing some of the best traditional shiki futons available. All shiki futons from J-Life are made with 100% cotton and maintain a strong reputation for longevity, lasting an average of 7 – 22 years. Prices vary pending on size and whether or not you would like a custom cover, which is to be expected.
A few notable factors separate J-Life from their competitors. First, J-Life makes extra long twin size shiki futons, so if you were under the impression that you would need to buy a queen to accommodate your height, this could be an excellent alternative. Second, a variety of washable custom covers are available, though most of them aren’t available through Amazon and must be purchased through the J-Life website. Finally, each shiki futon comes with a five year manufacturer’s warranty against defects in workmanship and materials, which helps allow for some peace of mind.
- Extra long twin size available
- Washable custom covers
- Five year manufacturer’s warranty
- Requires traditional shiki futon maintenance
- Majority of custom covers only available through J-Life website
Best Modern Shikibuton: Tuft and Needle
UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2015: Tuft and Needle has notified me that they no longer offer a 5 inch shikibuton mattress; however, they do offer a 10 inch mattress with a 10 year warranty. Since quite a few people will ultimately decide on a platform bed rather than a traditional Japanese futon, I have left this recommendation here and updated the link to the new mattress.
If you’re looking for a shikibuton with the convenience of a modern mattress, then you’re looking for Tuft and Needle. These shikibutons are a little thicker than usual, 5 inches rather than 3 – 4, and are particularly popular for platform beds. Prices are slightly higher but still comparable to J-Life, leaving your decision largely to personal preference.
What makes the Tuft and Needle shikibuton different from others on the market is that it’s actually made with triple layer foam, although the cover is still cotton. The company provides a 7 year warranty covering defects in worksmanship and materials, as well as a 30 night trial period. If you’re not happy with your shikibuton after 30 days, get a new one or your money back. The best part? 95% of returns go to local charities or nonprofit organizations.
- No traditional shikibuton maintenance required
- Chemical free flame retardant
- Extra long twin size available
- 30 night trial peroid
- 7 year warranty
- Foam (not 100% cotton)