What is a Futon?

Traditional Japanese bedding is called a futon (布団). Technically, the word “futon” just means “bed” in Japanese. The design in traditional Japanese Futon has three basic components: a supporting layer, a mattress layer, and a covering or top layer.

However, in Western societies, the futon has just two components, and if we put it in a simple definition:

So what is a futon?

Simply, A futon is a sofa bed, whereas the mattresses are identical for sitting as well as sleeping.

But is it that simple? Let’s learn more!

What is a Futon
Image Credit: thespruce.com

What Is a Futon?

A futon is a sofa that can also be used as a guest bed in America. It typically rises 20 to 21 inches above the floor, making it slightly taller than a platform bed. We’ll compare the futon, sofa bed, and daybed, and you will understand better.

Sofa bed vs. futon

The mattress in a sofa bed typically sits on a separate structure frequently installed under the sofa seats. The bed frame needs to be pulled out from underneath the couch structure to transform a sofa bed into a mattress for sleeping at night.

Futons typically have a unique appearance because the seat cushion and mattress are the same. 

Unlike a futon, which has seat cushions that are flatter, harder, and tufted in grids like a regular mattress, a sofa bed’s seat cushions are more suited for two people sitting upright and have a plusher appearance.

Daybed vs. futon

Unlike a futon, a daybed does not “convert” or “transform”; it is just a piece of furniture with enough seating and cushion space to be used for relaxing during the day and sleeping well at night.

Now that the definition of a futon has been established, let’s examine the term’s historical context to learn how the futon arrived in America from Japan and how they influenced each other.

History of the futon

When you want to understand what is a futon, you must want to learn a little bit of history beforehand.

In early Japanese history, the Japanese placed a mat made of hemp (known as mushiro) on the floor, and the Japanese placed a softer mat on top. Layers of the straw mat were employed to improve comfort during the Nara period in the eighth century, eventually leading to the development of the modern tatami floor.

Those of higher rank would also place plush zabuton-style cushions on top of the straw mats for added comfort.

What we call futon in America comes from the phrase historically referring to a bedding system in Japan that includes a base (shikibuton), the actual futon mattress, a comforter (kakebuton) or blanket (moku), and a pillow (makura). What we call a futon in America descended from the shikibuton.

How does the futon become American

To accommodate the small quarters that people lived in, in the 1970s, Boston-based architect William Brouwer created the western-style futon, which ensures that the sleeper is off the floor in some way. 

How did the American futon influence the Japanese

When used on the wooden slats of the sofa bed, the mattresses explicitly made for Brouwer beds were thicker and softer than their Japanese counterparts. The need for a thicker mattress has even impacted the Japanese market, increasing the variety of mattress sizes available.

Read more: How Wide Is a Queen Bed Frame

Pros and Cons of a Futon

Futons are fantastic since they can be folded up, stored easily, don’t weigh much, and transformed into a sofa or a bed whenever necessary. As a result, it is the ideal investment. You can also assume that there is no downsizing, but is this true?


  • They weigh little. Futons are incredibly lightweight to move from one area to another because they are filled with natural materials like cotton, wool, and leaves.
  • They don’t have frames. Futons that are traditional in design do not include a frame, making it simple to position them in any space and to fold them away when not in use.
  • They are incredibly versatile when a futon can be folded into a bed or a sofa whenever necessary.
  • Futons are less expensive than couch beds because of their straightforward construction and design.
  • Makes a tiny space appear bigger. Because it is low on the ground, it makes the room look larger and needs less space.
  • Kids love them as they can’t “break the bed.”


  • Although they are constructed of natural fabrics, futons only provide a limited amount of comfort because they could cause back pain if you sleep on them frequently.
  • Futons often have a lower life span since the mattress surface eventually develops lumps, but if the mattress pad is removable from the frame, they are simple to replace.
  • Futons must be thinner than mattresses since they can be folded up easily. It might be problematic since they might flatten out and need ongoing maintenance.
  • Since we sweat a lot when we sleep, cotton absorbs the sweat. Therefore, letting the shikibutons dry out in the sun is crucial.
  • Some people find it difficult to consistently fold their bed at night and store it in their closets. No one may take a spontaneous nap, as you need to pull out the bedding. They are not suitable for people that have difficulty getting up.


Although each piece of furniture has advantages and disadvantages, it ultimately comes down to what you need in the available area. Here what is a futon is, your best option if you’re working with a tiny space! A couch would be helpful if you have a larger home and could use a little extra sleeping space.

In the end, the choice is yours. If we had to choose, we would select the futon bed because it is easier to customize to our décor than a sofa bed is. Additionally, we appreciate the concept of putting the bed away while not in use.

Which one would you pick? Hopefully, this article not only made what is a futon but also provided you with some direction in your shopping!

Good luck!

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