The Trouble With Tatami, Japanese Straw Mat Floors

By Donnie | Articles

Let me start off by saying that I really like my apartment. I love the mix of traditional eastern style and modern western style. When I signed for this apartment, I thought “Man this is gonna be awesome!” and for the most part it is. However one incident changed my completely flowery perception of my Japanese apartment.

I was just doing my daily routine just like I always do…working coming home and sleeping, trying to get in my 4 days of training (not lately though…I’m getting a bit fat…just being honest). I got home, changed my clothes, and thought that I might go out later that evening. So I opened the shoe cabinet near the front door to take out my freshest pair of shoes…

When I opened the cabinet…there was nothing fresh about any of it…there was mold on every single pair of my shoes…there was even mold on the soles of my shoes…mold everywhere. Some of the mold was really thick , too. GAG!!I I wanted to throw all my shoes in the garbage, but knowing my shoe size isn’t the easiest one to get a hold of here in Japan, I decided against it. I had to thoroughly clean every nook and cranny of every pair of shoes that was in that cabinet.

I thought to myself “Wait, if there’s mold here, is there mold in other places around the apartment?” Feeling half-panicked, half-disgusted, I started looking. There was mold in the dirty clothes hamper, some of my clothes hanging in my closet felt unusually damp. Disgusted I snatched all kinds of clothes out of my closet: button up shirts, t-shirts, sweaters, the works. Then I opened the door to the tatami* room. I looked down, and thought whew “Only dust.” I searched my bedroom closet and more damp clothes! AAAAARRRRRGGHHHHH!!! I don’t think I’ve ever washed so many clothes in my life.

*Tatami is a straw mat that is used as flooring in traditional-style, Japanese homes and in some Japanese apartments. Tatami was once a material made exclusively for the wealthy and nobility…not anymore, jack! (cuz I for darn sure ain’t a nobleman, and for super darn sure ain’t wealthy, lol 🙂 )

Then I looked a little more closely at the tatami mat. “Hold up!” Upon closer examination I realized that the dust had a funny color to it, light grayish-green. “Heheheh, Japan’s strange even the dust is a weird col…OH SNAP!! THAT’S MOLD!!!”

My bed is in the center of the room (off of the floor, luckily). On the far side of the bed, the area where I don’t walk very much, there was mold at the base of the wall and all over the tatami.

I felt awful. I didn’t even want to sleep in my apartment that night. Since coming to Japan, I have really made an effort to keep my place as clean as I can. In my old apartment I never worried about mold. This was going to take some maintenance.

I wanted to start with the tatami first because it seemed like that was where most of the mold was. How do you clean a tatami mat?!? I emailed my friend Naomi, to ask that very question. This is what I was told:

Step One: Take a Dry cloth and Wipe any any dust (or in my case, mold)
Step Two: Because I was dealing with mold I went over the tatami floor again with a mixture of very light alcohol and water. I tried to use as little moisture as possible (dry damp) because I’m mold likes damp areas, right?
Step Three: After the tatami dries. Go over the area one more time with a dry cloth. Going in the direction of the grain of the mat.

While I was cleaning I looked at my mat and saw places where the frame of my bed made an impression in the tatami, impressions that are permanent (YIKES!). I’d say this is the second tatami issue.

The final issue with tatami is that it has a scent. On some days, the scent is stronger than normal. It’s not really a big deal for me, but some people don’t like it. I also guess if you have some type of allergy to straw, tatami might not be the best of ideas. As far as mold goes, I don’t think it’s a problem with all tatami mats, that could just be an apartment/humidity thing. But, if it’s not mold, it’ll be dust. So if you have one a tatami floor, regular cleaning is a good idea (I usually clean mine on Fridays or Saturdays).

And if you’re having mold trouble, there’s one other thing I that’s been pretty useful for me:

What else did I do to try to stop the mold monsters from invading my home?

You have sign up for the Japan Guy, free, newsletter to find out 😉 (Suspense music plays in the background.)

Sincerely,

Donald Ash

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  • Japan is a moldy place, not your fault! You can get plastic shoe boxes for this very reason. It is not unusual to get mold on your shoes during the rainy season and summer. I had a mold problem in my tatami room because laundry was always hung up in that corner. The solution?

    1. Sunshine. Open the curtains and let the golden rays do the killing for you.
    2. Buy a dehumidifier. Use the timer. Great for drying clothes in the winter.
    3. Where you see mold: open the window, grabs some rubber gloves and spray the area with water and bleach mixed together. Gets rid of the black and kills the mold. This didn’t bleach the colored edges of tatami. That stuff is pretty resilient.
    4. You can buy tatami wipes (like bathroom wipes, kitchen wipes–in that aisle). Make a routine of wiping those mold-lovin tatami mothers down.
    5. Buy plastic furniture. I tried to be eco friendly, but paper and wood stuff molds TERRIBLY.
    6. You can get drying packets and plastic containers. These little guys are cheap. Just stick them in your closets and drawers. Peel off the top of the container and when it is full of water (about one month?) Take it out. Let the water go down the drain and toss the container. The packets turn a different color when they are finished. Not eco but better than getting diseasy from inhaling mold. Look in the clothes pins aisle.

    Also check out my blog. Nothing to do with mold, but very awesome.

    • Donald Ash

      Yes it is, Alana. Thanks for a great list of mold solutions!

  • Mariko

    Hey Donald, sorry to hear about the mold thing… 🙁 I used to put some products, which absorb humidity(除湿剤) in my closet(押し入れ)Actually, I put them everywhere in my apartment. :)) You can get them in Jasco, Terasshima, Kasumi and some other supermarkets too. I have put a link, which gives you some ideas what they look like. If you already know about them, just keep buying and putting them in your apartment. Good luck!

    http://www.amazon.co.jp/%E3%82%A8%E3%82%B9%E3%83%86%E3%83%BC%E6%A0%AA%E5%BC%8F%E4%BC%9A%E7%A4%BE-%E3%83%89%E3%83%A9%E3%82%A4%E3%83%9A%E3%83%83%E3%83%88-%E3%82%B9%E3%82%AD%E3%83%83%E3%83%88-%EF%BC%92%EF%BC%91%EF%BC%90%EF%BD%87%C3%97%EF%BC%93%E5%80%8B%E3%82%BB%E3%83%83%E3%83%88/dp/B004Q317B8/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1308752381&sr=8-7

    • Donald Ash

      Absolutely had to get some of those, Mariko. ありがとうごいました!

  • I’d heard about this.. but that’s pretty scary that it can happen so easily. The packets are what I’ve read/been told work effectively once you get rid of the mold the first time.. and the 100y store sells then fairly cheap, ne?

  • haha, loved the hook for your newsletter at the end. Great site! Just signed up for the newsletter, I want to hear the finale. 🙂

    • Donald Ash

      🙂 Thanks for reading Lance, and for signing up. It should be going out pretty soon.

  • Ms. Hoshino

    Japan weather is similar to the mid west in the U.S. (Where I live now) I think. My house here and the house in Japan has mold maybe because the weather is right for it to grow.

    I don’t have 和室 so I don’t hassle with tatami. It is nice. I do enjoy it in a home for aesthetics but I am too busy with animal care in my house to worry about another chore. Tatami is good for people without lots of small animals everywhere like we have. 🙂

  • kanadajin3

    MORE TIPS FOR FELLOW GAIJIN

    Open your oshiire in the summer (Japanese closet)

    DONT LET YOUR HOUSE GET HUMID! DONT!!

    3 days ago my closet was happy. Yesterday, it was mould city!!!!

    HELL!!!

    All our clothing, gone. Gone to the mould.

    I had no idea that mould happen so easy in Japan. NO IDEA!. I mean i knew mould comes, but not that fast. I didn’t know over night my house could go up in mould.

    TAKE DRASTIC PERCAUTIONS
    – open your closet during summer, keep it ventilated.
    – I wouldn’t keep clothing on the wood in the closet, i would hang it, just in case.
    – Keep those dry moisture absorbing boxes EVERYWHERE
    – don’t worry about your high elec bill because of AC/ fans going, its better than waking up to mould city!!!

    • Donald Ash

      I ABSSSSSSSSSSSSSOOLUTELY AGREE!! I do everything I possibly can to keep the humidity levels down in my apartment. I would rather pay a little more, too than to walk into my tatami room and find “fur” on my tatami mat or “fur” all over my shoes. The first time I had a severe case of mold in my apartment, it made my skin crawl. I have been a mold warrior ever since. Not all partments are created equal either. I never had a problem with mold in my first apartment, and never had to use dehumidifiers, but with my second apartment (literally a five minute bike ride away), I have to be VERY careful!

      Nice suggestions.

  • kanadajin3

    MORE TIPS FOR FELLOW GAIJIN

    Open your oshiire in the summer (Japanese closet)

    DONT LET YOUR HOUSE GET HUMID! DONT!!

    3 days ago my closet was happy. Yesterday, it was mould city!!!!

    HELL!!!

    All our clothing, gone. Gone to the mould.

    I had no idea that mould happen so easy in Japan. NO IDEA!. I mean i knew mould comes, but not that fast. I didn’t know over night my house could go up in mould.

    TAKE DRASTIC PERCAUTIONS
    – open your closet during summer, keep it ventilated.
    – I wouldn’t keep clothing on the wood in the closet, i would hang it, just in case.
    – Keep those dry moisture absorbing boxes EVERYWHERE
    – don’t worry about your high elec bill because of AC/ fans going, its better than waking up to mould city!!!

  • ProjektKobra

    LOL..great story..I had to learn the hard way as well..I took the sliding doors off our closets when I found a cap, a wallet and my good shoes coated in thick green slime…then I went out and got a dehumidfier for each room, and I was pretty much set.
    The better story though was how I moved from the tatami room to the hardwood floor room upstairs…folding a bed up every morning was “crazy stuff”, and there was never any problems with my futon on the tatamis..I suppose because it could breathe…After sleeping for a couple of months on the hardwood floor, we had the cable guy come by, and he needed to move my futons to lay the wire.
    When I lifted the futons…they….were stuck to the floor, and came off it like youd see the cheese ooze off a pizza slice. The cable guy just shook his head and said, “You know you gotta fold up your futons every day, eh?”. >_<'
    I still never did that, I just went to Konan and bought a bunch of sunokos to act as an ersatz futon frame.
    Good times!

    • Zokia

      I live in China. Is this like a “thing” in Japan? There’s mold everywhere? Count me out. Haha

      • ProjektKobra

        It was bad in summer…its an island..there’s a lot of humidity…just gotta leave things open….or get some dehumidifiers..they are common…

  • Frank McCarry

    Japan is the most humid country on the planet….you know that, right? And there is no better flooring than tatami…not just my opinion. There are absolutely no problems with sleeping on tatami…if you have the energy to roll the futon up every morning…Beats making a bed!
    Ususally the mould problem is due to laziness!

  • Miss Cellany

    Weird… I live in a subtropical country where it hits 90 – 98% humidity in the summer for about 2 months and we don’t get mould in the wardrobes. At least I’ve never noticed it… However… we live in a very different style of house here. Our houses are built out of brick / rubble / limestone & are lime rendered. Due to the porous nature of the (very thick – usually 50cm or more) external walls and the lime render, the walls soak up any moisture (mostly in the torrential rains in spring and autumn but also I guess they absorb humidity in the summer). Occasionally mould grows on the walls in the winter (particularly if there’s a leak or a crack in the wall or roof), but it’s easy to scrub off with hydrogen peroxide and during the summer we don’t get mould problems at all (well some people that live up at altitude do because the clouds make everything constantly wet but that would happen up any mountain I suppose).

  • Idura Zulkefli

    Hi, can tatami mat clean using normal washing machine And dryer?

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