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There is a quality of tatami that is unmistakably Japanese. The scent of a freshly mowed field in Spring. The pale green color of the straw that transforms into a warm yellow over time. The firm, smooth texture that feels cool on your feet in the summer yet warm in the winter. Even among modern Japanese people, there is a sense of nostalgia derived from the presence of tatami.

Yet, tatami is disappearing from the daily life of the Japanese at an alarming rate of 80% in the last 25 years. Once a standard in every Japanese home (like the Japanese futon), tatami flooring been relegated to a single Japanese-style room, or perhaps completely eliminated from the decor. Modern Japan is losing touch with tatami while the rest of the world never had a chance to appreciate it.

That’s where the tatami coaster comes in.

Innovation in Japanese Traditional Crafts

Kuboki Tatami has been producing tatami mats for more than 280 years, spanning 15 generations of tatami craftspeople. Though their business model has radically changed in recent years, their commitment to their loyal customers and their passion for sharing tatami with new customers continues to drive them. They are innovating new products designed to keep modern society in touch with the traditional Japanese craft of tatami.

Kuboki Tatami crafts person making unique Japanese tatami items
One of the skilled tatami craftspeople at Kuboki Tatami at work.

“We want tatami to become something more familiar. Whether for a stein of beer or a glass of sake, we hope you can capture a bit of the Japanese spirit from this small tatami mat,” says Fumio Kuboki, who now runs the company.

Handmade Japanese Quality to Last

Turning a handmade Kuboki tatami coaster over in your hands, you realize the person who lovingly made it by hand has both the skills and passion for tatami making. The decorative borders are carefully attached to last for years, made with a synthetic material that resists damage and staining. The grass weaving around the edges of the tatami mats are particularly important for beauty and durability and are woven by hand.

Kuboki tatami items in shop in Japan
Kuboki Tatami displays several uniquely Japanese gift items.

Mr. Kuboki readily admits that the average consumer may not be able to judge the difference between low and high-quality tatami at first glance. In fact, it is the longevity of high-quality tatami, made using only the strongest middle section of the rushes, that truly sets it apart. Kuboki Tatami’s nearly 300-year history is testament enough to its reputation for quality among its customers.

Eventually, Kuboki has its eyes on overseas markets for its larger tatami mats. Many visitors to Japan return home wishing they could add a Japanese-style room with its zen furnishings and fresh smelling tatami mat floors. Kuboki is also thinking about how to use tatami in Western-style rooms, giving them a touch of Japanese decor without having to fully commit to it.

kuboki tatami workshop in Japan

In Japan, Kuboki Tatami has supported both the tatami industry and Japanese society in a number of ways. They are proud participants in the “5 Days, 5,000 Tatami Mat Promise”, which pledges to provide tatami mats to those displaced from their homes during natural disasters. They keep a stock of 300 mats at the ready, just as they did in 2011 when they donated the same number of mats toward disaster relief for those affected by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. In addition, they provide hands-on tatami learning and training opportunities to the children of their local elementary, middle, and special-needs schools.

glass of Japanese sake in tatami shop in Japan
Kuboki Tatami coasters are the perfect item for everyday use.

Though Mr. Kuboki believes the demand for tatami will never completely disappear in Japan, he also believes the global audience deserves a chance to experience tatami, its scent, texture, and beauty. The Voyapon Store is proud to carry Kuboki Tatami coasters in various colors and designs, perfect for adding a small touch of Japan to your home or office decor.

Tatami coasters (various designs)
Tatami coasters set (3 series)
Todd Fong

Todd Fong

Freelance writer, photographer, and mentor. Japan-based, Oaktown (Oakland, California) born. Freelance writing and photography work includes Lonely Planet, Voyapon, Metropolis Japan, and several regional tourism websites around Japan.

www.peraperapera.net/

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