Tatami care, and dust to dust


Spring cleaning

Kate wonders if it is OK to wash tatami mats. “I’m spring-cleaning,” she writes.

Begin by vacuuming to clear the floor of any dry material. Then, using a cloth, wipe the mats, following the run of the weave. If you go against the weave, a) it’s uncomfortable, and b) grubbiness may get trapped in the seams.

You can choose to use a wet rag that’s well-wrung-out (meaning only slightly damp with water) or use a commercial spray that helps to keep mites and mold at bay. Too much liquid and if your mats are old and the natural sheen has worn away, you might find them turning a bit soggy.

Many visitors assume that tatami mats are made with rice straw. In fact, the covering is woven from a form of reed, or igusa in Japanese. It used to be commonplace to see igusa growing in Japan, but now less so. (Seen for the first and last time by this traveler on the Noto Peninsula in 1998, and then I had to ask the farmer what it was.)

Apparently much of the igusa used for tatami matting in Japan nowadays comes from — yes, you guessed it — China.

One other thing: Fresh tatami not only smells nice, but is also practical as well as beautiful to look at and comfortable to use. It cleans the air by absorbing nitrogen oxide. So now you know.

Scattering ashes

H.S. writes on behalf of the Grave-Free Promotion Society of Japan ( www.shizensou.net ) regarding the column published Feb 17, toward the end of which it reads: “By the way, more and more people recently are requesting that their ashes be scattered — please be aware that this is technically illegal in Japan.”

“However,” notes H.S., “the part ‘this is technically illegal in Japan’ is not correct. As our site describes, it has been practiced for nearly 20 years as a legal act.”

Apologies. The matter is confused by the fact that although there is no national decree against the scattering of ashes in Japan, local governments are allowed to regulate as they see fit. So rules do tend to differ from prefecture to prefecture.

One thing is clear: The dead can only be cremated through the auspices of a funeral parlor, after which the cremains are handed over in an urn and those attending can take this home. From thereon, you really are on your own.

Scattering ashes is popular, but could also be interpreted as a form of pollution, especially off your local beach, or at a famed scenic spot, for example.

With so much of Japan being mountainous and forested, it makes sense to scatter, of course, and with the cost of land at such a premium, many believe the custom of interring ashes and bones will gradually disappear as more people choose to return to nature, dust to dust — the ecological and cheaper way.

We hope this clarifies the situation.

Amerasian rights update

Jimmy, who featured in our last column, mailed us with an update. “I don’t know if you know this, but I have another petition online regarding rights for Amerasians. I am going to send them off to Congress and U.S. President Barack Obama in June.”

Jimmy did the same thing with the last administration and only heard back from one lawmaker, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina. “He promised to look into the matter and I get calls from his office periodically updating me,” Jimmy writes.

The latest site is at www.thepetitionsite.com/1/amend-public-law-97-359

Send questions, queries, problems and posers to community@japantimes.co.jp