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All about bolsters

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Bed with pillow (right) and bolster (left)

A bolster pillow

A bolster is a long narrow pillow or cushion filled with cotton, down or fibre. Bolsters are usually firm for back or arm support or for decorative application. They are not a standard size or shape and commonly have a zipper or hook-and-loop enclosure. A foam insert is sometimes used for additional support. A bolster is also referred to as a cushion, a pillow and a prop. In western countries, a bolster is usually placed at the head of one's bed and functions as head or lower back support, or as an arm support on furniture with high rigid sides. Bolster pillows are also used as bumpers in cribs and for lounging on the floor in family and children's rooms.

In the United States, "body pillows" resemble bolsters and are designed to be hugged when sleeping.


The word is from both Middle and Old English, and is a cognate of the Old English belg, "bag". The first known use of the word "bolster" was before the 12th century.


In Southeast Asian countries, in particular Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Bangladesh and Thailand, the bolster is designed to be hugged when sleeping. In Vietnam, it is called gối ôm ("hugging pillow"), while in the Philippines, the traditional tandayan is also colloquially known a "hotdog pillow" after the food it most closely resembles in appearance. Indonesians and Malays both call it bantal peluk or bantal guling.

In India and Pakistan, a type of bolster is known there as a gao-takkiya, masnad or masland, and is used for back support aside from hugging during sleep.


In China, it is called bàozhěn in Mandarin ("hugging pillow"), while in Cantonese it is known as laam2 zam2.

Bolsters are called dakimakura in Japan. Tradition suggests that a wife would fashion the bolster out of bamboo and give it to her husband when he travelled away from home so that he would not be lonely at night, hence the alternative terms "bamboo wife," "Dutch wife.

In Korea, it is referred to as a jukbuin, from the words juk ("bamboo") and puin ("wife"). A jukbuin is used in the summer months to cool down while sleeping, since its hollow construction from thin bamboo strips allows air to flow through the pillow. A person tightly wraps their arms and legs around the jukbuin while sleeping.

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