1. Tell us a little bit about the company.
Our journey began when our predecessor, who once was an office worker, decided to pursue tatami trade instead. After 5 years of live-in training at a long-established tatami store, he decided to open his own shop.
Today, this former office worker’s daughter and her husband have taken over the business, and strive to pass on the tatami tradition by reintroducing the comfort and the aroma of tatami to a modern audience.
2. What inspired you to take over Matsuba Tatami?
Growing up as one of three sisters, I had always anticipated that my fathers business would come to an end after he stopped working since tatami production requires a lot of heavy lifting. However, as time went on, we gradually developed a desire to preserve his business and to spread awareness of the comfort of tatami to many people. From that point on, we started creating small tatami goods. Through our small goods, we are hoping to be able to change the current trend of “turning away from tatami” in our country.
3. What inspired you to start making these products out of Tatami material?
The presence of tatami in Japanese culture has plummeted due to the westernization of our living spaces. Repopularizing tatami has been a struggle to say the least, but we hope that people can once again appreciate the tactility and the aroma of tatami through our small goods made of tatami remnants.
4. What is a typical day like for the production at the factory?
The ground floor is our factory space where two craftsmen produce tatami mats for residential homes. We renovated our factory two years ago with the purpose of creating a more visitor friendly space. We now even hold factory tours.
The mezzanine is where we sell our small goods.
The second floor holds both the workshop for our small goods as well as a tatami lounge for our employees and customers. The tatami lounge is used for numerous activities, such as creating our small goods, hosting interactive workshops, and for connecting with our customers.
5. What’s the process for creating the pieces?
Every tatami mat comes in different sizes. The tatami craftsmen usually custom make their mats one by one to fit the home of interest. Each one is finely adjusted in size and shape down to the millimeter, ensuring that each mat lies flush against the wooden frame of the room.
That said, our small creations are based more on our desire to let our customers experience tatami living in a more portable form.
6. Tell us a bit about the materials used for your products and why.
Goza is the surface layer of tatami. A tatami mat is woven using 5000 strands of igusa rush, which start out as strands of grass each 2mm in diameter that get stretched out to about 160cm in length. The majority of domestic igusa rush is produced in Kumamoto Prefecture.
Igusa rush is 2.5 times more absorbent than cotton, making it ideal for humid Japan. On top of that, antibacterial, deodorizing, and relaxing effects of the scent have been proven.
The foundation of tatami is characteristically cushioned as well as insulated. Traditionally, the tatami mat has consisted of layers of packed straw, however a problem with this method is that it is very heavy, and attracts insects. Over time, materials have been improved and replaced with layers of compressed light-weight boards made of crushed wood chips and styrene.
Tatamiberi is a long, durable piece of fabric sewn onto the sides of tatami to prevent unraveling. In the past, colors and patterns of tatamiberi were used to symbolize one's class.
In modern times, there are many different colors and contemporary patterns to choose from, working nicely as an aesthetic accent to one's home.
7. How does sustainability fit into the work that you do?
While most are aware of the current trend of SDGs and sustainability in our culture, it should be noted that tatami has always been an item with sustainability in mind. Whenever renewing tatami, you first remove the tatamiberi and reuse the back side of the goza. The foundation of tatami can last anywhere between 20 and 30 years so we tend to refrain from renewing the foundation as often as the goza. Once a tatami mat’s goza is is no longer needed, it can be fermented and used as fertilizer. It can also be used effectively as insulation material for crops or as a rug.
Due to the recent downward trend in tatami popularity, this question is honestly very difficult to answer. Seeing the number of tatami mat shops and rush farmers decrease so rapidly has been hard to watch to say the least.
In order to confront this current situation, we are not only creating small goods, but also offering opportunities for people to learn and experience tatami’s positive characteristics in the hopes of them being both knowledgeable of, and interested in tatami.
My 12 year old son has expressed interest in taking over the business in the future, which brings our family hope. Until then, we want to continue to do our best through trial and error to preserve this wonderful tatami culture for the future of Japan.