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Traditional Japanese-style rooms (a, washitsu) come with a unique interior design that includes tatami mats as flooring. Consequently, they are also known as tatami rooms. Their style dates back to the Muromachi Period when they originally served as study rooms for the wealthy before gradually becoming more commonplace as reception and living quarters.

Today, traditional Japanese-style rooms are still very prevalent around Japan. Tourists have the opportunity to overnight in one by staying at a ryokan, minshuku or temple lodging. Alternatively, you can view a variety of beautifully preserved historic tatami rooms at sites such as temples, villas and tea houses.

Common Elements

Tatami

Sliding doors (fusuma)

Translucent sliding doors (shoji)

Transom (ranma)

Alcove (tokonoma)

Ceiling (tenjo)

Built-in shelves (chigaidana)

Built-in desk (tsukeshoin)

Common Furniture

Partitions (byobu/tsuitate)

Low tables

Cushions (zabuton)

Futon

History

In the early days, tatami was only used by the nobility who would sit on a single, stand-alone mat placed on the floor. Tatami became more widespread during the Muromachi Period; however, it was still common to use stand-alone mats as only the wealthy could afford to cover entire rooms by tatami. In the following centuries, tatami mats became increasingly more common, and they were found at virtually all Japanese homes until modern, wooden and carpeted floors started to replace them in recent decades.

The traditional Japanese rooms that can be seen today mostly come in two basic styles: shoin and sukiya. Shoin-style rooms originally served as study rooms in temples and typically incorporated a built-in desk, an alcove and built-in shelves. Shoin-style rooms became popular in Muromachi Period residences where their function was extended to receiving and entertaining guests. Additional characteristics that developed in shoin rooms of the time included floors covered entirely with tatami mats, fusuma sliding doors and shoji doors.

The sukiya-style is a variation of the shoin-style with subtle artistic differences. The sukiya-style was heavily influenced by the tea ceremony and is commonly seen in tea rooms. Sukiya-style rooms tend to be more rustic and understated compared to the formal shoin rooms to better reflect the way of tea. Characteristics elements include unadorned clay walls, woven straw or bamboo ceilings, undecorated fusuma and unfinished wood.