My neighbor Kazu-chan complains that the Shiraishi International Villa guests have taken the bed sheets down to the beach again. The local minshuku calls me up now and then and asks me to explain Japanese bedding to foreign guests who are asking for sheets for their futons again.
Misunderstandings abound when it comes to Japanese bedding — an oxymoron itself, since the Japanese use futons. But “futonning” just doesn’t sound right. It sounds more like a method of transportation, like a magic carpet or something achieved through transcendental meditation.
So here is a short course on the Way of the Futon so as to clear up any misunderstandings.
Imagine a naked futon with no sheets or covers on it. As opposed to a naked mattress, which typically has stripes on it, the Japanese futon usually has a floral motif, because in Japan everything must be florally pleasing. Besides, when the Japanese hang their futons over their windowsills to air them out, they blend in better with nature. It’s a good thing Westerners don’t hang out their mattresses. Those stripes would look ridiculous.
The Japanese futon is thin and flexible so it can be folded and stored in a closet during the day. This is also a geometrically pleasing way to store things . . . by making rectangles into squares.
Now imagine taking that square, unfolding it into a rectangle on the floor and dressing it. The white sheet that goes over the futon is the futon’s underwear. Everything else goes on top.
Properly dressing a futon is a bit like origami paper folding. Just as in the early stages of learning origami, your paper crane may end up looking more like road kill, your futon may end up feeling more like a camel.
Here is how to properly put on that first white sheet. Warning: Do not try this alone. Get at least two people (but 10 is better), and hold the sheet at each end with the opened zipper on top. Turn the sheet inside out. Reach inside the futon sheet and grab the corner with your hand. With the same hand, grab a corner of the futon. Now pull the sheet over the futon while keeping hold of the futon corner the whole time. If the entire thing morphs into a chicken before you’re finished, start all over.
Now, zip up the zipper and hold the futon from both ends again. Shake vigorously. This is called anti-lumping. It should take care of all those camel humps.
If you cannot find someone else to help you dress your futon, I suggest you lay the sheet on top of the futon, make sure it is centered properly, and secure it with duct tape.
Enter the “towel ketto,” a towel so large, it looks like a bath towel for a Saint Bernard. Or a limousine. Despite the rumors, it is not a modesty towel for foreigners in the hot springs. The towel ketto is to be used as a sheet. You can either sleep on top of it, or under it like a thin blanket. It is used mostly in the summertime, to assist in your sleep and swelter routines during the hot and humid Japanese summer. Try to resist the temptation to take your bedding to the beach to use as a queen-size beach towel.
Hint: For those who don’t have the futon wrestling skills required to put your futon into a regular sheet, use the towel ketto as the underwear. Just lay it on top of the futon and tuck in the sides. This is cheating, so shhhhh.
Now for the “kakebuton,” the duvet cover that goes on top. Here we have another naked but florally pleasing piece. This duvet goes inside a duvet sheet that is — argh! — another zippered sheet! It also has a large, gaping hole in it! An oval, to be exact, with a piece of netting sewn over it that may even be designed to look like lace. Using the same method as the first futon sheet, put the duvet inside the duvet cover, zip it up and shake it smooth.
If you think the duvet sheet looks like a large picture frame with the oval cutout in the middle for the picture, then congratulations — you are beginning to understand your futon! The oval is to show off the floral pattern of the duvet underneath, which is why the cover always has bright, smiling flowers giving the peace sign.
Now that you have reached floral harmony, go get your beauty rest in your flower bed . . . not on the beach!