The Sleep Judge Team pondered that very same question and has acquired a Nature’s Pillow Sobakawa Pillow to try out for ourselves. The buckwheat hull filling is certainly a different feel and provides an unexpected body response which we enjoyed experiencing for ourselves. Our opinions and detailed results of these trials can be found below.
There will come a time in your search for the perfect sleep comfort when a product intrigues your senses through the claims it makes.
The materials and construction of traditional Japanese Sobakawa pillows are one such product, and most definitely will have you wondering what makes it so comfortable and unique that consumers claim it may be the best sleep aid they have ever purchased.
Nature’s Pillows Sobakawa Pillow Specs
Case material – 100% cotton
Comfort – back, side
Adjustable – no
Warranty – Varies through fulfillment company
Breakdown of the Nature’s Pillow Company
The Nature’s Pillow company was founded in 1994 and was one of the first in the sleep industry to capitalize on the traditional Japanese style buckwheat hull pillow within the US. Using an ‘As Seen on TV’ platform, the style and comfort of the pillow became widely popular with people looking for a new and unique way to support their head and neck, alleviate headaches and pains, as well as snoring.
The concept of a buckwheat pillow, which has been used for centuries throughout Asia, applies a holistic mind, body, and spirit approach to the design for a proper sleep. Nature’s Pillows is dedicated to providing a product as similar to the original designs as possible to get a correct, unsoiled sleep experience.
The Sobakawa Pillow
Sobakawa literally means buckwheat in Japanese and incorporates the hulls of this grain as the sole filling of the pillow. This particular pillow is considered to be made as close as possible to the original, traditional design and contains enough hulls to support you in both back and side sleeping positions comfortably. Some people may even find it comfortable as a stomach sleeping choice depending on their size and weight.
Although many comparable pillows are often adjustable, meaning you can add or remove husks for both comfort preferences and refreshing- this pillow is not. This isn’t a deal breaker, however, as the pillow serves as a stand-alone product that lends proper support to a variety of consumers. Plus, the size of it makes it an excellent choice for other uses, as well as travel.
- Great neck support
- Sleeps very cool
- Great for hip support as well in stomach sleeping position
- Not adjustable
- Small size
- Heavy and slightly noisy
Although this pillow arrived from a 3rd party vendor, it was well sealed within the plastic, and not at all compressed, folded, or compromised in any manner. When removed from the plastic I expected to smell a stronger buckwheat scent from being in storage (per past experiences) but I didn’t smell anything at all, which was actually awesome, as I personally do not like the smell of buckwheat (which is not unpleasant, and does dissipate well if you do happen to get a scent). It also came with a helpful guide for use, as well as a cotton, zippered casing.
Since I’ve now become familiar with the shape, feel, and heft of a buckwheat pillow, I was not at all surprised by my first impression of this product. What was interesting was the size, as it was much smaller than what I expected. Traditional Sobakawa is actually much smaller than a traditional standard pillow that we are used to, but many companies created larger buckwheat pillows to meet the expectations of a western market.
Since I have commented before in reviews that a standard sized buckwheat filled pillow may benefit from a smaller casing, I was excited to see if my own opinions held true with this much smaller version. Like other similar products, the buckwheat moved easily within the casing with plenty of material to provide the dispersion of the fill when shaping.
Features & Benefit Claims
When considering a product for purchase, you should pay close attention to the claims surrounding it by both the company and consumers. No product is ever a one size fits all, especially concerning one that is so personal- such as a pillow- so attention to these details can better provide you with the information you need prior to making a purchase.
100% Organically Sourced Buckwheat Hull Fill
Not to be confused with Nature’s Pillows other products of similar name and varying fill, this pillow is filled with 100% organically sourced buckwheat hulls and follows the original design that made them so popular back in the 1990’s. Buckwheat is a staple grain-like seed native to Asia and is used both for animal fodder, and ground into a flour or used in other various edible ways. The seed grows within a husk, which it then sheds as it matures. This husk, or hull, it what is used within a buckwheat pillow.
They are small and cup-like shaped, and although very durable and strong- can be crushed with enough force. When used collectively, like in a pillow, they provide a gentle compressing give under your weight and shape. Surprisingly they do not create pressure points despite being a firm surface, and you can shape them more to your liking by moving them around within the case for a thinner, or thicker overall feel.
There is a little confusion when online ordering about the size of the pillow, so hopefully this can be cleared up here. In the sleep industry, the assumed, acceptable size of a standard pillow is 20 x 26 inches. The original size of a true Sobakawa is approximately 20 x 15 inches, and can sometimes be labeled as a ‘standard’ pillow to denote that it is the smallest size of the pillow offered by the company.
The Sleep Judge originally ordered the standard pillow, which is, in fact, a traditional Sobakawa pillow size of approximately 20 x 15 inches (when I measured this pillow it was right about 19 x 15 inches). Personally, I prefer the smaller size as a true standard hold A LOT of hulls and requires much more shaping to get it to your perfect adjustments. The company does offer a larger 20 x 29 inch ‘jumbo’ size as well if you feel you need something larger.
Despite there being an easy solution to making this an adjustable pillow (explained below), as is the pillow only stands about 3 inches in height when allowed to lay level. Although this sound like it is a very thin pillow, due to how the hulls can be ‘bunched’ up within the casing to fit perfectly under your neck and head, it comes across as a much thicker feel when using it on your side.
Buckwheat pillows are often known for their heft. Even as a smaller pillow, this one weighs in just under 4 pounds, and has a good heaviness to it overall. This makes it a bit easier to transport, and also use for multiple purposes other than just laying your head upon (described below). Although there is definitely room within the case to put more hulls, having space to shape and move the filling is part of the comfort experience that you can take advantage of.
Although marketed for head and neck comfort and support, even the company recognizes the versatility of this particular pillow. Although firm in nature, and filled with a material that shifts and gathers with pressure and gravity, it is surprisingly malleable to fill the spaces between your head and shoulders, and it also provides the correct height for cervical alignment.
The size of this pillow allows you to use it in many ways as it is more portable and lighter than a true standard size pillow. Using it for lumbar support when driving of sitting, support when stretching when exercising, an aide for stretching hips and back, and placed in the freezer for later use for headaches or joint pain are all alternative comforts this pillow allows.
I absolutely love the size of the pillow and have used it while watching television, laying on the floor, as a lumbar support while typing at my desk, and have also allowed my children to take advantage of it (as I describe below). This is a versatile pillow for sure, which I mostly attribute to the size as it is much more manageable than a larger version.
100% Cotton Casing and Zippered Cover
The pillow comes encased in a 100% cotton casing with durable seams to hold the weight of the hulls when they press against them. It also comes with a zippered cotton cover to place the pillow in for added protection and durability. Although the primary case slightly thin, it is well made and provides excellent airflow properties. I could see how the material may wear with use over the years as the harder fill and edges of the hulls do cause friction, no matter how slight, against the inside of the casing.
The zippered cover is a thicker, twilled cotton, and boasts well-sewn seams and a durable zipper. This is more similar in nature to the casing many companies place the hulls directly in, meaning you get two layers of material between your head with this pillow, rather than just one before adding your own pillowcase.
Although ‘technically’ this pillow is not adjustable, you can easily take further advantage of the cotton twill, zippered cover it comes with to create an adjustable pillow. You could either use it as the primary casing if the original wear through, or pour the hulls into it and use it to add, remove, or refresh the husks for an even longer life than it is rated for (which is approximately approximately 10 years with proper care).
Part of the benefits of a buckwheat husk pillow is the aromatics they present. Although I did not smell anything out of the bag, if I pressed my nose up against the pillow, the slightly nutty, earthy smell associated with buckwheat was there. When discrete (at least in my opinion) this is a pleasant smell that is claimed to be calming. This may dissipate over use and time.
Machine Washable and Dryable Case
This is not a pillow you can run through the wash. For starters, it is way too heavy and would most definitely throw your washer out of balance, but it also would damage the hulls and create a mess. Buckwheat hulls can dry out pretty easily, but prolonged exposure to moisture and soaking can ruin the integrity of their durability. If you do happen to get the pillow wet, be sure to dry it out completely by placing in the sun or any place where it can air out. Also periodically flip it and shake it up to allow for circulating air to all the hulls.
The cover that comes with the pillow is machine washable and dryable, and since it serves as a protective barrier, is pretty effective in keeping humidity, oils, and dirt away from your pillow. Plus, you should use it with another pillowcase as well.
Nature’s Pillows have a long-standing reputation with customers simply due to how long they have been around in comparison to other companies that sell similar products. Many reviews are from repeat customers who are replacing old pillows or buying for the first time due to their longevity.
Comments surround the comfort the pillow lends overall, how well it supports the head and neck, and the overall quality and durability. Many people who have experienced neck and back problems have a tendency to lean towards this type of support to alleviate pain and keep their head stable while sleeping. They also claim it aides in snoring (which I ran a trial on as well- see results below).
Owners like to shape it to fit their heads and neck, and they prefer the smaller size and mention they never feel as if they needed something larger. It also is a much cooler sleep according to many people who sleep hot.
The slight rustling sound it makes as the hulls move around takes a bit to get used to, as does the overall feel, but most people compliment it first on the quality and mention it is worth taking the time to do so. The biggest complaint is that it is not adjustable as is, which doesn’t take away from the overall comfort, but does keep you from changing how it feels to fit your personal preferences unless you modify it. And, as mentioned earlier, there is some confusion over the terminology used concerning pillow size.
My Trial Experiences
Since I already have some experience with buckwheat pillows and this isn’t my first rodeo, per se, I was more curious to see how a smaller sized pillow might feel in comparison to larger versions. In particular, I was interested in this pillow as it claims to be more of a traditional copycat than other versions in the industry.
I’m naturally a stomach and side sleeper, which can make finding a good pillow difficult as stomach sleepers need a thin responsive pillow, and side sleepers need a thicker, responsive pillow. Usually, I look for malleable pillow choices that allow me to adjust during the night if I shift positions or get uncomfortable. If I do find myself in a good, supported position I usually will sleep through the night uninterrupted.
Even though this isn’t an adjustable pillow and I couldn’t remove husks to improve upon the thinness, surprisingly this wasn’t a poor choice for stomach sleeping. For my smaller stature I definitely would benefit from an overall thinner choice, but for many people, this may serve as an excellent stomach sleeping pillow.
The husks did not create any pressure on my face and gave well to my ear and jawline to provide a gentle cradle. I also was able to easily rest my shoulder on the side of the pillow, which was nice as most pillows create a sloping sensation if I rest my shoulder against it.
This is an absolute go-to back napping pillow for me now. I regularly nap on my back on the floor to stretch it out, and this pillow cradles my head perfectly, and in alignment with my spine. I often feel the lower back strain and neck pain when laying on my back for too long if the pillow is not supportive of my spine. I also often feel pressure on the back of my head and will get a headache from it. With this pillow, I never felt any of this.
The hulls shaped well under my head and neck, and it provided even better support when I shaped it a little prior to laying down on it. The smaller size of the pillow really allowed me to get the hulls where I needed them without making me feel as if there was too much bunched up around my head. I also enjoyed the gentle pressure it provided on the back of my neck. Plus, like when on my stomach, if my shoulders pressed into the pillow it gave beneath and shaped around them.
I already know how supportive and comforting sleeping on my side can be with a buckwheat pillow, and although I’ll admit I still lean towards a soft feather pillow, I certainly do appreciate this type of sleep surface. Shaping the pillow to fit your head and neck is easy, and with just a little movement you can settle your head and neck perfectly into the pillow for excellent spinal alignment. Your shoulder tucks in nicely against the pillow, your head is completely encompassed between the hulls for support, and your neck is held perfectly where you need it without any shifting.
This size pillow was exactly what I was hoping a smaller buckwheat filled pillow would feel like. It was the right height and not too wide, which limited the space the hulls move within to keep them where they are needed.
Since this type of pillow holds claims surrounding snoring and back and neck relief, I thought I would pass it on to a few other people who have sleep issues to see how well they liked it. I also was curious to see how well the size of it held up to the scrutiny of much larger people than me.
As for the snoring issue, I decided to apply it to my own son who is a horrible snorer when he sleeps on his back. I know with certainty it is due to his posture as he will stop snoring if I remove his pillow. It is hard to find a small pillow for an elementary age back sleeper that allows for enough contouring and proper positioning that isn’t too large or lifts the head too much. I had him nestle his head into this pillow and fit it under his neck. He said it was loud (the movement of the hulls), but he drops off to sleep quickly on a regular basis and did so on this occasion as well. I never heard him snore on the first night or subsequent night’s after.
I also lent it to a friend who is much larger than me and sleeps on their side. He also is a snorer, but I was more interested in his take on the size, and, as expected, the first comment he made was concerning how small it looked. Since I told him not to let the size deceive him, he took it for a few weeks to get used to and ease into its use. The comment he sent follows:
“Thought the size was too small, but it held my head perfectly. The noise took some getting used to, but it wasn’t bad, and I liked to bunch up the filling under my neck at night. I slept really well once I allowed myself to relax into it and I would recommend it for anyone who sleeps on their side.”
The quality and use of this pillow are solid, as is the longevity of the company which offers excellent customer service according to customers. Because of the nature of this type of pillow, it may not be the best choice for everyone, even if they do find it comfortable. There are many variables that play into personal preferences, including the noise the hulls make within the casing, that might make it difficult for some people to really like- even if they do give it time.
The claims the pillow makes are well upheld by those who swear by it, and with the thousands of reviews it has received, it definitely is a choice worth considering. This is especially true if you suffer from neck or back pain, headaches, or snoring and nothing seems to help. Even though the pillow is not adjustable without modification, it has a good balance of fill for proper support of any size body, even in a small pillow package size.
The first time I used a buckwheat pillow I was extremely impressed as I had been very skeptical of the entire thing at first. I found this pillow to be well made, comfortable, and a great choice for both sleeping- as well as support for my hips and legs when needed. My personal preferences may still lean more towards a softer feel simply because I move at night at times, I certainly slept well on this pillow and appreciate its overall comfort.
Equipped with this knowledge, if the Nature’s Pillows Sobakawa Pillow sounds like an interesting product, you should definitely check it out for yourself. Most third-party sellers offer a 30-day return so you can at least get an idea of whether it is something you might want to keep. With two sizes to choose from, you also are able to provide further support to a wider variety of body sizes and preferences, although in our trials we saw the smaller size fit a wide variety of body types.