What are Sunoko?


Having no shame, I occasionally write posts which beg further explanation: mentioning some uncommon Japanese item without description; making leading or suggestive statements; and so on. Regrettably, these ploys rarely net participation, and I just have to rely on my writing to captivate readers. (Troublesome to be sure.) Late last year, I made mention of sunoko (簀の子) as if it were something any person would commonly know. Either everyone knew or – the more likely case – nobody worried about such a detailed point of that post.

For those of you who might want to know, sunoko are starring in today’s post; no longer relegated to being an item on a list. Hooray for sunoko! First, how do you write sunoko? I used kanji above, but since ‘su’ is a non-standard character, it is far more common to see the word spelled out: sometimes in hiragana – すのこ; sometimes in katakana – スノコ.

Various SunokoNext, what is a sunoko? Take a look at the photo. Typically they are made from two or more sticks which act as pegs/feet with several slats of wood fastened across the top, 90 degrees to the pegs. Ample gaps should be left between the slats, because their main use is to lift some thing, off of some surface, allowing air to flow underneath.

For the photo I laid several sizes out on my tatami floors. Please note that they should never be used on the mats. Typically we don’t even wear slippers into a Japanese style room in order to protect the woven grass surface. Also note that there are two in each package – one face up and one face down – so you can see two sets of pegs here.

Sunoko in closet 2My main use for sunoko is to allow air flow under bedding in the closets (押入). In this photo you can see my futon, quilts, blankets, comforters, and pillows sitting on a sunoko. If futon are folded in thirds, they fit nicely in a standard Japanese closet. Just a little aside, but don’t you think my pillows are cute?

Small sunoko under computerSummertime can be incredibly hot in Japan and I am cheap, so I don’t like to run the air conditioner if I can avoid it. High temperatures in my classroom are problematic for my laptop, which has cooling problems. I put a small sunoko under the computer to facilitate cooling. This is working out pretty well.

At traditional hotels we can often find very long, narrow sunoko in the entry (玄関) for placing our street shoes before stepping up to the main floor. Be careful though, many places provide a similar set-up for changing into slippers. In that case you wouldn’t put your street shoes on the sunoko. Occasionally they can have very tall pegs to help diminish the strain of getting from a very low entry to a fairly high floor. In this case it might be more elegant to use a large stone as the intermediate step.

Rubberized or plastic sunoko are also used in bathrooms. They conduct heat slower than tiles; keeping your feet warmer. And they allow water to drain away and air to move through. Some are designed to be slip-resistant as well. Basically, anytime you want to lift something you can use sunoko.

My dictionary seems to indicate that very old sunoko were made by lashing bamboo slats, but kiri (桐 paulownia) is a very popular material. I believe it has aromatic qualities, like cedar, which are beneficial in closets. Additionally it is lightweight and strong. High-quality geta (下駄), wooden sandals, are also made from kiri.

24 Responses to “What are Sunoko?”

  1. Sylvia Says:

    How practical. And speaking of futons, I’ve slept on one for years. I much prefer them to spring beds, which seem to fight you every time you want to move. As the center compresses it becomes a cozy nest. I like that. 🙂

  2. びっくり Says:

    I had a nice mattress in the states with really firm springs and a couple thin, soft layers on top. It was pretty good for support and nesting and escapability. The typical futon sold in America is about twice as thick as a normal futon in Japan, so we don’t get quite as much nesting here; however, with my room just above freezing in the morning, I use about four layers of blanket/comforters and make a den. It is hard to crawl out of that toasty little cave in the morning. Nesting is nice. 🙂

  3. fightingwindmills Says:

    Yes, you have very cute pillows. My daughter has a couple of pillows from Japan. She has Usahana and two other really nice ones. I like your explanation of sunoko a lot. You are so thorough!

  4. Sylvia Says:

    “escapability” 😀

  5. びっくり Says:

    Usahana is OK for little girls, but I don’t think I would buy one. 🙂

    No dictionary could turn up ‘escapability’, but I used it anyhow under the assumption that all those books were inaccurate. 🙂

  6. Stefanie Says:

    Love your pillows! I could use a few sunokos they seem like such practical things. And all this nesting talk is making me want to crawl under the covers with a good book who cares that it’s the middle of the afternoon!

  7. びっくり Says:

    You would love the kotatsu. It is like a coffee table… with a skirt of comforter thickness… with a heater fastened underneath. We sit on a butt-sized futon and wrap the skirt around our waists. This only heats the bottom half of your body, but if your core is warm and you have a nice robe-like top on, you stay pretty toasty. This is a good place for reading.

  8. Sylvia Says:

    That kotatsu sounds amazing. Anything involving heat and I’m there!

  9. びっくり Says:

    When I was a kid, I would watch the Saturday morning cartoons, while wrapped in my afghan and sitting over the heat vent. Like my own little heated tent. Kotatsu are just the adult version of this. 🙂 Also, anyone who owns cats should seriously consider this. During the winter, most cats can be found curled up under the kotatsu.

  10. Sylvia Says:

    Cute. Catatsu. 🙂

  11. Stefanie Says:

    That heated kotatsu sounds like just the thing for me and my cats.

  12. びっくり Says:

    Sylvia – love your wordplay. We could also use cat in Japanese, which is ‘neko’, and make it ‘nekotatsu’. 😉

    Stefanie – should I be looking into shipping?

  13. Sylvia Says:

    That’s even better. We’ll add it to the dictionary along with ‘escapability.’

  14. びっくり Says:

    Just for the record, nekotatsu have no escapability in the winter. 🙂 I had a student who refused to use kotatsu because she knew she wouldn’t leave the house all winter.

  15. Sylvia Says:


  16. Sylvia Says:

    Hmm, (ne)kotatsu seem to be in the air…


  17. びっくり Says:

    Strange: their explanation was quite detailed, but failed to make mention of cats. 🙂

  18. Sylvia Says:

    Shameful oversight.

  19. Jennifer Rey Says:

    We bought this small radiator to use in our 8′ x 16′ greenhouse to save our plants from the ravages of the scarce hard-freezes weve been experiencing this winter. We purposely bought a bathroom radiator because of the moisture that can accumulate in a greenhouse, just like in a bathroom after a hot shower or bath. We plugged this radiator into a 100′ heavy-duty extension cord and set the thermostat to 65 degrees: just enough to combat the freezing temperatures but not hot enough to hurt our plants. We have been using this radiator on nights where a freezeor near-freezehas been predicted for nearly 2 months and it has worked flawlessly. I would urge this product highly for use in small greenhouses and, of course, bathrooms.

  20. びっくり Says:

    Jennifer – sounds nice. I have an oil-filled radiator that I leave set on low near my pillow while I sleep. It prevents my brain from suffering a hard freeze. 🙂

  21. Twin Futon Says:

    The same as always, your post is insightful and wonderfully written thank you. Keep up the high-quality work I love your site! 😉

  22. lMlusashi Says:

    i was wondering where to buy them?

  23. びっくり Says:

    Where do you live? If you are in Japan you can get them all over the place. Small cheap ones at the 100 yen store, bigger ones at all the hardware, household goods, or home improvement centers. Etc.

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    What are Sunoko? | Neo-新びっくりブログ

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