What Makes Good Tatami Omote?

The two things that have the greatest impact on whether or not tatami omote will be any good for tameshigiri targets are the quality of the rush that is used, and how tightly the reeds are woven together. The higher quality mats are made from rush that is more mature and is thicker. The thicker reeds will take the constant abuse of being walked on for a much longer period of time. The lower quality mats are made from the younger, thinner, plants. This type of mat is ideal for tameshigiri because the reeds are thick enough to give the target good density and stiffness, but not so thick that they pose an increased risk of scratching a sword's polish or prematurely dulling the edge.

After the crop is harvested all of the rush is divided into different "grades" based on criteria such as thickness, color, and condition. The thickest and most consistent rush is woven into the tokutokujo grade mats. The next highest quality rush is woven into the tokujo grade mats, and so on down the line. Some manufacturer's lay the reed side-by-side. Other manufacturer's will overlap the reeds slightly to make a thicker, more robust mat. This second method produces a nice quality mat even with the lower grade rush.

The tightness of the stitching is very important. If the stitching is loose then the mat will be too flexible. This is not so bad if the tatami omote will be used on a tatami mat where it is bound on the edges. However, if the tatami omote will be used for tameshigiri it will not be stiff enough and will usually bend over when a cut is attempted.

The mats that are made for the Mugen Dachi Company are made from hand-sorted, selected materials, and assembled to our requirements. We only use the rush material that is young and soft, and poses no increased risk of scratching your sword. Our supplier then uses an overlapping construction and tight weaving to produce the best quality tatami omote at the lowest possible prices.

Know What You Are Getting! Some Important Definitions.

Several different types of mats are on the market now and the terms used to describe them are usually less than helpful and are sometimes rather confusing. Always ask what kind of mat and cutting material you are getting before you buy. If you want Traditional Tatami Omote then buy from Mugen Dachi with confidence.

Tatami Mat: refers to a 2 inch thick mat that measures roughly 1 meter by 2 meters, and is used as a special flooring in Japanese homes, shrines, etc.

Tatami Omote: means "tatami exterior" and is any woven mat that is actually USED as the covering on a tatami mat. Beach mats are not tatami omote because they were never designed to be used as the cover on a tatami mat.

Goza: literally means "reed carpet, or mat" and generically refers to any of the woven mats that are made from reeds, grass or straw materials. Tatami omote is goza, so are beach mats, so are some woven placemats, floormats, and window coverings.

Igusa: the common word for juncus effusus, the rush material that is used to make traditional tatami omote. The word "igusa" is also used to describe mats that are made from rush materials.

Wara: means straw.

The table below lists some of the common types of mats that are available and how they compare to each other. It is not a comprehensive list of all mats. The information shown is based on our experience doing tameshigiri over the years and from working with our supplier in Japan. Your mileage may vary.

Mat Type
Tokutokujo- New Very thick, very expensive, and difficult to cut.
Tokujo- New Thick, expensive, and somewhat difficult to cut.
Tokutokujo- Used Very rarely found in the U.S. and a challenge to cut well.
Jo- New Expensive to buy new but great to cut.
Tokujo and Jo-
Lightly Used
Commonly sold as "used" tatami in the U.S. (Very Nice)
Mugen Dachi New
Tatami Omote
New nami grade tatami omote made for tameshigiri
Tokujo and Jo-
Heavily Used
Most commonly sold "used" tatami in the U.S.
Beach Mats Found in import stores for about $1 per mat
(3-4 mats/target)

As a reference for people who are familiar with beach mat makiwara; a target made from three or four beach mats is similar in size but not density to a target made from one Mugen Dachi mat, a target made from four or five beach mats is similar in size but not density to a target made from one piece of lightly used tokujo or jo grade tatami.

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