A tatami room is a fixture in washitsu, or traditional Japanese interior design. The tatami room, with its simple furnishings and open atmosphere, can bring the Far East into any Western home.
A tatami room takes its name from the tatami mat, which is one of the room's predominant features. Constructed from rice straw, a traditional tatami mat measures 3 feet by 6 feet and is used to provide comfort for sitting or sleeping.
Dating as far back as the 700s, tatami mats became a symbol of social status during ancient Japanese times. Only the wealthy could afford to rest on tatami mats. Commoners were forced to sit on the bare floor.
Aside from the traditional mats, a tatami room also features low ceilings, futons or cushions for furniture, rice paper blinds and thin privacy screens called shoji instead of walls.
The open feel of a tatami room provides relaxation and peace of mind. In traditional Japanese culture, a tatami room often served to entertain visitors, conduct tea ceremonies, or house a religious altar. The room's airy design, straw mats and simple décor also helped alleviate the humid Japanese summers.
The term tatami is derived from the Japanese word "tatumu," meaning "fold." Respect for tatami mats also started the tradition of removing one's shoes before entering a tatami room.