Bed Sharing – Pros and Cons. Part 1: Japan

Bed sharing has its problems. Your bed partner might snore, hog the covers or wake you up too early.

But it also brings benefits in terms of intimacy, warmth, protection and space saving. For these reasons, bed sharing has been practised and highly valued in many cultures.

These two posts compare attitudes to bed sharing in Japan and in Britain.

Anshinkan

Soine (co-sleeping) is a common practice in Japanse families, with parents sharing sleeping spaces with children until around the age of ten.

When explaining what soine means to them, families emphasise the importance of anshinkan. Anshinkan refers to the feelings of contentment and security that come from the intimacy of soine.

A mother and baby son lie on pillows on a tatami floor.  The mother is watching her son sleep.
A recently widowed mother watches her son sleep in the Japanese film Twilight: Saya in Sasara (2014)

soine (co-sleeping)

kawa no ji (child between the parents)

anshinkan (feelings of contentment, relief, security)

jiritsu (independence/interdependence)

Soine

Traditionally co-sleeping in Japan is in the form of kawa no ji, with the child sleeping in between the parents.

Diana Tahhan, Touch Intimacy

It is sometimes used as a solution to lack of space in a household, or so that parents and babies experience less sleep disturbance as they do not have to get up in the night to tend to the baby.  It also means that parents are close to children in an emergency, like an earthquake.

The main reason for co-sleeping is to foster feelings of connection and security within families.  Through the sensations of soine the warmth of bodily intimacy, the touch of skin and the feel of the futon and the floor on which it is placed – the members of the family develop a deep connection with one another and with the shared living-space.

These feelings of warmth, comfort, security, connection and wholeness are summed up in the word anshinkan

Connected via futon

The flexibility of the futon (the traditional Japanese bed) is important in developing anshinkan.

A little boy wakes up a sleeping man with noisy banging of a drum; the boy sleeps and the man swats flies away from him with a fan. Colour process print, 1909. Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Although western-style beds are common in modern Japanese households, the futon is generally used for soine. The futon is quite different from a bedframe and mattress, which is rooted in one room and generally associated exclusively with an individual or individual couple (“my room”, “my bed”).

As the family gets larger, futons can be placed side-by-side to create more space to sleep.  If an older child becomes unsettled, a futon can be moved into their bedroom temporarily for a parent to sleep on, recreating a sense of soine for a short time.

This flexibility, and blurring of ownership aids in developing the intimate connections between family members, and between family and home that make up anshinkan

This family living in Australia recreated soine by placing two large matresses together under a mosquito net.

Jiritsu

The child moves to their own room around the age of ten and becomes jiritsuJiritsu is often translated as ‘independence’, but the sociologist Diana Tahhan argues that this should be more properly understood as ‘interdependence’.  Although the family has lost the physical closeness of soine, they retain the feelings of anshinkan.

Tatami mats hanging on balconies to air.

The intimacy of the room becomes our intimacy. And correlatively, intimate space has become so quiet, so simple, that all the quietude of the room, it is in us. We no longer see it. It no longer limits us, because we are in the very ultimate depth of its repose, in the repose that it has conferred upon us. And all our former rooms come and fit into this one. How simple everything is!

Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (1964), quoted in Diana Adis Tahhan, ‘Sensuous Connections in Sleep’

Separate bedrooms?

During an interview with the anthropologist Inge Daniels in 2002-3, Mr Togo, an architect born in 1952 living in Tokyo, explained that his generation aspired to be able to provide their children with private bedrooms, “because it is something we could never have ourselves”.

However, in the twenty-first century it is not uncommon for different generations of the one family to sleep together, and most children below the age of elementary school sleep with their parents.

In 2006 Daniels interviewed a family with elementary school aged children who had decided against giving their daughter her own room, and remained sleeping together as a family on futons.

“Until a few years ago it was considered good to have a children’s room just like people in Europe.  But recently, cases in which families cannot create smooth internal relationships have increased.  That is why the view that it is good to be [sleep] together as a family is re-gaining popularity.”

A Japanese girl shows us her bedroom, which she shares with her younger brother.

EXPLORE FURTHER

See

Visit Susan Andrews (photographer) gallery of images from homes in Japan.  The third photograph shows futons folded in the corner of a tatami room.

Read

Diana Adis Tahhan, The Japanese Family: Touch, Intimacy and Feeling (2014)

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