Handmade Tatami in Hualien’s Hakka Township

In Taiwan, it is rare to find handmade tatami. With the changes over time, this traditional industry has gradually declined. However, in Fenglin (鳳林), a Hakka township in eastern Taiwan’s Hualien County, there is still a professional tatami making master, Hsu Chia-fu (徐家復). He has been making tatami since his grandfather's generation. Now in his 70s, he still insists on hand-stitching tatami and passing down this precious skill to younger generations.
Tatami making master Hsu Chia-fu
(All images: Hakka TV)

Tatami is the material used to lay the floor in traditional Japanese houses. It is made of rush and cloth. The rush is woven and the end is covered with cloth. New tatami mats are pale green, and over time, they turn pale yellow.

The tatami mats found in the rare Japanese houses and Japanese-style restaurants in Fenglin Town are all made by Mr. Hsu. He is the only master in the town who can take orders and help people repair tatami. Many local elderly people are full of nostalgia for the mats, which remind them of the good memories of living in traditional Japanese houses and sleeping on tatami when they were young.
Many local elderly people are full of nostalgia for the tatami mats

Today in Japan, tatami is mostly made by machine. In Taiwan, however, Mr. Hsu not only still makes tatami by hand, he has retained the important tools for making tatami handed down from the Japanese occupation period, which are of historical value. During the Japanese occupation, Fenglin Township was a Japanese immigrant village, so many precious Japanese culture and techniques were passed down to the local community.

Mr. Hsu said that after Japan was defeated in the Second World War, Japan ended its rule in Taiwan and his grandfather took over the tatami shop opened by the Japanese at that time. In the beginning, the tatami shop operated by Mr. Hsu’s family was made by hired outside masters, while the Hsu family was responsible for preparing the production material and selling the tatami.
Hsu has insisted on slowly sewing tatami mats stitch by stitch

Mr. Hsu was originally an employee of the Taiwan Power Company (Taipower). Later, after retiring from Taipower, he decided to take over his family’s tatami shop and learned the technique of making tatami from the masters hired by his family. Over the years, Mr. Hsu has insisted on slowly sewing tatami mats stitch by stitch. Even though it is hard work, he hopes that this charming traditional skill with a faint grassy fragrance will continue to be passed down and that people can continue to see tatami making by hand.