Marie Ebersolt

15th August, 2023

Tatami is a traditional Japanese floor covering. It is made up of several layers of rice straw, laid one on top of the other, criss-crossed and compressed. Covered with a woven straw mat, it offers flexibility when you sit or lie on it. However, it is customary to place a cushion or futon on top for added comfort.

Tatami has existed since the Heian era, but it was thinner and more mobile. It was placed on the clay floor or on wooden parquet for the more affluent. It also took the form of a pillow. It was only later that it became a fixed element.

The dimensions vary from region to region. Nevertheless, the surface area of a tatami, always rectangular in shape, varies between 1.5m2 and 1.9m2. The tatami is still so widespread today that it is used as a unit of measurement for surface areas. Japanese property advertisements always mention surface areas in jyó, the sound reading of the tatami kanji. For this reason, a standard has been created to achieve consensus and avoid confusion in terms of surface area.

The layout of the tatami mats varies for certain events. It is customary to change them at funeral wakes or ceremonies to mark variations in the spiritual environment. For example, tatami mats at banquets will not be in the same positions as at the events mentioned above. In all cases, it is absolutely forbidden to walk on them with shoes on.

Today, although tatami is less widespread since the development of flat living, it is still familiar to the Japanese. Traditional rooms have been fitted out in some flats, it is still present in private homes, Japanese cuisine restaurants very often have tatami-covered rooms, as do temples and inns. In recent decades, it has even evolved, with coloured tatami or tatami with a more varied 

Among contemporary craftsmen, Kenzie Yamada uses his know-how to create an art form in its own right. He creates real tatami paintings, with pieces cut out in the form of motifs that make up a final design. To do this, he weaves rice straws into sections of tatami, then cuts them into particular shapes. Finally, he assembles them to create an illustrated floor. He plays with the direction of the mats to play with the reflection of the light, giving volume to the whole and an impression of movement. The drawing seems to come alive. The artist gives free rein to her imagination and uses her technique to sketch and bring the floor to life. A modern approach to a material that can be used to create an artistic setting in a domestic space, or more often in a place of meditation such as a temple.

Marie Ebersolt