Go easy with the tataki!

© Wikipedia
© Click-a-Japan
© Teijin
© V-lap

Japanese futons were traditionally filled with beans or buckwheat chaff and, more recently, have contained plastic beads or thin and carefully-packed cotton layers.

Now, however, advanced new nonwovens are taking this market by storm.

The fibre waddings, down or foam that are traditionally employed in mattresses in the West are generally unsuitable for Japanese futons, primarily because of their bulk and weight.
Futons need to be pliable and light enough to be folded and stored away, allowing a room to be used for other things during the day. This is especially important in Japan’s crowded cities, where space is at a premium.

It’s also a matter of both pride and good hygiene for the futons to be aired in sunlight regularly and, in addition, many Japanese throw them over washing lines and beat them with a special ‘futon tataki’, traditionally made from bamboo, to prevent the padding from losing its shape.

Japanese futons are often sold in sets that include the futon mattress (a shikibuton), a comforter (a kakebuton) or blanket (mofu), a summer blanket resembling a large towel (a taoruketto) and a pillow (a makura).

They are also intended to be laid out on the tatami flooring that is indigenous to Japanese architecture. Tatami mats are made of straw and woven sea grass which is yielding and springy to the touch, making it both comfortable and providing support to the spine. This is another reason why they can be so thin and light.

European popularity

When Japanese futons began to become popular in Europe in the 1980s, along with sushi and kimono-style dressing gowns, they were considerably adapted – not least due to efforts to counteract the Western stigma attached to sleeping on the floor. Consequently, they were raised on frames, which also meant they had to be much thicker in order to be comfortable enough. As a result, European futons are generally packed with needlepunched waddings of cotton, coir and wool, along with foam layers, and generally much more similar to sofa beds than the Japanese article.

Recently, however, the best of both worlds has become possible, as a result of vertically-lapped nonwovens.

The technology for producing these materials has been developed by an Australian company, V-Lap, and enthusiastically embraced by both the bedding and automotive industries, due to its ability to produce nonwoven structures which are bulky, lightweight and easy to mould.

“The key advantage is the true vertical orientation of the fibres,” says V-Lap Managing Director Jason Cooper. “This provides a more uniform product and greater resilience and recovery from compression for specific applications. And most importantly, it allows for reduced weight at a comparable thickness.”

In mattress construction, V-Lap materials can be used with strong scrims for spring pocket insulator materials, and the same machine can manufacture replacement mattress topping materials which are much more foam-like than conventional crosslapped and needlepunched polyesters. The improved compression and recovery do not compromise the soft feel of the material, while the ability to provide improved bulk without weight – sometimes reduced by as much as 20% – provides for much greater air circulation and a ‘cooler’ feel than standard polyester separators.

As such, V-Lap has been the biggest provider of vertical lapping machines to the suppliers to major bedding markets in Europe, the USA and Asia over the past five years.

A very early adopter of the technology has been Japan’s Teijin. Teijin’s V-Lap lightweight, recycled polyester nonwovens are being employed successfully in the interiors of new vehicles such as the latest Mitsubishi Outlander because they perform as well as conventional sound-absorbing materials yet weigh only half as much, helping to improve fuel efficiency through vehicle-weight reduction. Their automotive applications now extend to carpets and trim, headliners and doors.

Teijin is also developing V-Lap as a heat-insulating material for use in next-generation houses and nonwoven products with added functionality can be produced through composite fabrication by bonding V-Lap to other films.

In Japan meanwhile, Teijin has been very successful in promoting the use of its V-Lap materials for futons in Japan, since these materials can be much thinner than other comparative products with the same comfort values.

V-Lap materials are voluminous yet lightweight, highly breathable, highly malleable and easy to mould, making them a superior material for cushioning applications.

As such, they can be very easily stored or thrown over a washing line – but require little application of the ‘futon tataki’ to retain their shape.


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