THE FOUNDATION OF JAPANESE CULTURE
Tatami mats in Matsuzaki, Tottori Prefecture
"Most of the Japanese culture happens on Tatami."
The first words, Toshio Ito addressed to me would be: I love Tatami. He showed me his business card, were this was even written, like a proof of his words. Indeed, his living room is full of Tatami, the ground, the benches, every frame for pictures shows his passion. Yes, Toshio Ito is a traditional Tatami maker in the 4th generation. "Tatami is my life." His hole family were working in the same workshop, in the same small town at the big lake in Tottori close to the Japanese Sea. Very little has changed since his great grandfather started here once. The biggest progress was the sewing machine Toshio invested in 40 years ago. I still learned to sew by hand every Tatami, we made three plates per day, with the machine they are now able to finish 20 Tatami in one day.
Is there something else you make different to your father?
I save more money. But what I learned from him was how to work hard and what honest
What does it mean to you?
To make my costumer happy. I love to see the smile in their faces, when they see the new Tatami for the first time. And most of them are coming back, that makes me proud.
What is your secret, Toshio?
I work kind, carefully and polite. That is my way to make myself happy and only if my costumer and myself are satisfied, then the Tatami is perfect and completed.
The foundation of the Japanese culture.
What is so special about Tatami for you?
Tatami connects everything. In the old tradition Ikebana would be presented in a Tatami room, because the size of the Tatami mat (Tokonoma) offers the correct distance to the
Ikebana to get the perfect impression for the observer.
The traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony is still happening in a Tatami room. Actually the order
or choreography of the ceremony happens on the lines in between the Tatami mats, you
need the arrangement of the mats to know where to place the people and the cups.
Judo were usually performed on Tatami. Every Temple and Teahouse contains Tatami. Everything happens on Tatami, it represents literally the base of the Japanese culture.
Japanese grass smells better.
In the process of Tatami making there will be used different kinds of rice grass. The decision which one is used, is mainly based either on aesthetics or on the budget of the customer. However the calculation is relatively simple: Imported Chinese grass is less qualitative, but cheaper, Japanese once is better and more expensive. What is the difference? It is the smell, he explains me, Japanese grass smells like fresh cut grass, that a good smell, while the Chinese has a more artificial smell. Although nowadays he mostly uses the imports from China.
Japanese people like changes.
We love our four seasons, especially the Sakura. Our food is seasonal, Shoji, the Washi paper doors, needs to be changed every year, so does Tatami. Every year it looks different and every
3 to 5 years it needs to be changed. We are used to change our interior and we like that to
take care of the house.
Indeed, it is a common sense in Japan, that Tatami and Shoji are indicator for the well-being of house and family, similar to the grass in front of European houses – the better it looks, the better is the family.
The smell will stay the same, but the colour of the Tatami will change over the years.
I love that, this is part of the beauty of Tatami.
Toshio’s costumers are mainly friends of friends, who recommended him, mostly from an elderly generation. The younger Japanese don’t want to have Tatami anymore in their houses, he explained, they orientate themselves on western interior design, there is no space anymore for the old tradition of our country.
Are you afraid of the future?
No, its never too late to learn something new. Tatami will may be less in future, but it will never disappear. And I will be retired by then!
Matsuzaki, Tottori Prefecture