Traditionally, Japanese people did not sleep on raised beds or thick mattresses the way many Westerners did (and do).
Traditionally, Japanese people slept on futon – a type of thin mattress rested directly on the tatami floor, which was laid out for use at night and rolled up or folded away in a chest or closet during the day.
This type of traditional bedding is still used in traditional Japanese inns (ryokan), minshuku (family-style lodgings similar to a B&B) and in Buddhist temples. Frequently, inns and temples that offer futon-style bedding also use traditional pillows (makura), which are filled with buckwheat hulls.
Americans often think a buckwheat-hull pillow will be less comfortable than a feather pillow, or that a futon has too little padding to make it a comfortable place to sleep. However, most people find that Japanese-style bedding is actually very comfortable to sleep on. (I like it better than Western beds, in many ways.)
Futon are normally topped with quilts; modern versions incorporate a “sheet” that fits over the corners of the quilt, but can be removed and washed separately from the quilt itself, extending the life of the quilt and making the bedding easier to clean. In the photo above, you can see how the sheet wraps around the upper quilt, leaving only a circular glimpse of the quilt itself.
Have you ever slept on traditional Japanese futon? Would you give it a try, if you had the chance?