Why do the Japanese eat and sleep on the floor

Why Do The Japanese Eat And Sleep On The Floor?

The Japanese eat and sleep on the floor. They eat dinner sitting on the floor and then after taking a bath the Japanese pull a futon out of their closet and spread it out on the floor. Why is that so? Why do the Japanese eat and sleep on the Floor?

Why Do the Japanese Eat And Sleep on the Floor?

Why Do the Japanese Eat And Sleep on the Floor?

In short, the Japanese have traditionally eaten and slept on the floor for a very long time. And they want to protect their culture and customs. Another reason why they sleep and eat on the floor is that the soft tatami mats don’t allow for heavy furniture because it would leave marks on the floors. Japan also experiences many earthquakes. Having much furniture like chairs wouldn’t be a good thing. Lastly, sleeping and eating on the floor preserve space. 

4 Reasons Why the Japanese Eat And Sleep on the Floor

Why Do the Japanese Sleep on the Floor?

Why Do Japanese People Sleep on the Floor?

Why do the Japanese eat and sleep on the floor

The Japanese have traditionally slept on a futon on the floor. Before you go to sleep, you take the futon out of the oshiire (closet) and spread it out. When you wake up you have to fold it together and put it back into the closet. That became such a routine of mine that I now do it almost automatically.

But times are changing and less and less people sleep on a futon. When I asked my Japanese classmates only 25% said they‘d sleep on a futon. And also only two of the six host families I stayed at had futons.

Why Do the Japanese Eat on the Floor?

Why do the Japanese eat and sleep on the floor

Just like in many other Asian countries, eating on the floor is quite common in Japan – even at restaurants. But when I asked my friends, only 29% said they‘d eat on the floor at home.

Which makes sense. Because chairs are just more comfortable. When I sit at a normal table my legs don‘t get numb, my back doesn’t hurt and I can actually fit my legs under the table. That‘s why I prefer eating at a normal table and why I am somehow looking forward to going back to Switzerland.

Why Do the Japanese Eat And Sleep on the Floor?

I don‘t really like eating on the floor because I always fear to hit the table and spilling all the plates (read why the Japanese use so many plates). Nevertheless, many Japanese people eat and also sleep on the floor. So why do the Japanese eat and sleep on the floor?

It’s not just because it has always been like that! So, here are the main reasons for why the Japanese eat and sleep on the floor.

Washitsu And Tatami

why do the Japanese eat and sleep on the floor

和室 washitsu means as much as Japanese-style room. Its floor is normally covered in soft tatami mats made from rice straws. In the old days, every room of a house used to be a washitsu. But nowadays most houses have only one or two of them.

The thing with tatami is that placing furniture on it would leave marks. Luckily if you have a tatami floor, you don‘t really need any. Because as I said earlier tatami is soft and makes sitting and lying on it more or less comfortable.

Protecting Japanese Culture

The Japanese are proud of their culture. They protect and try to continue their customs and traditions.

You see people going to shrines, wearing kimono, practising calligraphy, cook traditional Japanese food, etc. And another thing they still do is sleeping and eating on the floor, just like in the old days.

Another reason why the Japanese eat and sleep on the floor might be that Japan was closed off for a long time and didn‘t have any Western influences. Which also Western-style beds didn’t come to Japan for a long time.

Japanese Houses Are Smaller

Japanese houses are smaller than European ones. When I look at my room in Switzerland, my bed takes up about a third of the whole room. And in Japan, it would take up almost the whole room.

That‘s why they sleep on the floor. During the night the futon takes up more than half of my room. But in the day the futon doesn’t take up any space at all and you can use the space for other things. During the day you just put your futon in the closet and you have the whole room for you to use.


Japan experiences many earthquakes. Having a lot of chairs and tables that could fall or block your way is not only dangerous but life-threatening. Earthquake can happen at any time and thus having as little furniture as possible can only be a good thing.

Further reading:
If you’re interested in traditional Japan, you might like my article about what traditional Japanese meals look like or about 6 things you need to know about tatami mats.

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4 Responses

  1. Hi Levin!
    Nice post! I liked how you covered many different aspects.
    Btw I really like sleeping on the floor.
    Keep it up!

    1. Hey Japanman!
      Thanks for your comment.
      Well, sleeping on a futon does have many upsides to it. But I always find that after a few weeks of sleeping on one I want to switch back to a bed because it’s just way more comfortable. I wonder if Japanese people feel the same…

  2. I’m just starting to read about Asia and I’m happy I found this on Pinterest. Love it, will keep reading, thank you for sharing your journey.

    Well written, simple an short.

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