【News】Tatami industry to take action, go global (March 29, 2017)

In Japan, production of tatami matting (a thin upper portion of a tatami, Japanese traditional flooring panel) is on decrease with the westernization of lifestyle of Japanese people. To save and revive the tatami industry, some efforts are underway.

Riding on a Japan boom abroad, domestic tatami manufacturers have launched a new project to communicate the attractiveness of tatami to consumers at home and abroad. An agricultural cooperative in Kumamoto Prefecture (JA Yatsushiro) has begun to look into the feasibility of tatami matting export. Others are trying to develop new materials that make use of the superior properties of rush, the main material used to make tatami, while a farm equipment manufacturer has decided to restart the supply of rush harvesting machineries. All these initiatives will hopefully help farmers who grow the plant for tatami floor panels to keep going.

Tatamiya Dojo in Sagae, Yamagata Prefecture, is an association of 18 tatami manufacturers from across the country. In February this year, it launched a new project called “Tatami Tomorrow” jointly with a video director, an ad expert, a photographer and many other professionals in a wide variety of areas as well as Shiseido, a Japanese multinational personal care company. The project is aimed at drawing wider attention to the beauty of tatami by the full use of freshly-designed visual images and video streams.

The association also offers new adventurous events overseas, tatami refreshment demonstrations at Japanese rooms outside Japan. “The tatami culture in Japan will end if rush growers give up growing rush,” said Yoshiaki Kagami, president of Kagami Tatami in Sagae and the leader of the project, expressing his concern. He encourages tatami makers to use more tatami matting made of domestically-grown rush in order to stop the decline in the number of domestic rush growers.

JA Yatsushiro distributes 90% of rush in Japan. It recently began studying the feasibility of exporting tatami matting. JA Yatsushiro has experience in exporting pears to Taiwan. Such expertise can be used to start the export of the tatami material. “We want to preserve the Japanese culture,” JA Yatsushiro’s Rush Industry Center said. It’s also looking into the ways to make Japanese-style tatami rooms more familiar to people living outside Japan.

A farm equipment manufacturer also joins the initiative. Kubota Corporation said on March 27 that it will resume the production of the rush harvesting machinery “Igusa Harvesta.” Approximately 10 years ago, all domestic agricultural machine manufacturers including Kubota stopped the production of rush harvesting machines due to the reduction in the number of rush growers. However, Kubota decided to resume the production to meet the recent need of rush producers. The manufacturer will produce 100 units in three years and the sales will start in May this year.

Production of rush grass and tatami mats are decreasing. In 1970, the growing area of rush in Japan was 9,540 hectares. In 2016, in Kumamoto and Fukuoka Prefectures, which are two major rush producers in Japan, the growing area was 643 hectares and 2.54 million tatami matting were produced. All these numbers have almost been halved in ten years. In 2015, 13.2 million tatami matting were supplied in Japan but 80% of them were imported mainly from China.

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