Zaisu – Japanese floor chair

Do you pay attention to the arrangement of your dining room? Among the well-known Chinese gastronomes (people who study the relationship between cultures and food and the science behind good cooking) was Yuan Mei, who lived in the 18th Century. He stated that dining is always an art, and the aim is always to satisfy your hunger as well as please your senses.

Zaisu - Japanese floor chair
Four zabutons around a chabudai.

If that is the case, then the dining room should give you the best ambience to accomplish that goal. However, for many people, it is one of those rooms you always neglect in your home, at least in terms of the primary reason it exists. You use it for other functions – doing your assignments, reading books, using it as a library, and other tasks that re unrelated – but when it comes to eating, you desert it and it remains empty the whole time.

In many homes today, the only element that mars out a dining room is a lonely table, a cabinet that stores items such as books, and some matching chairs – there is no character, no uniqueness to the room.

Going by the definition of dining by Yuan Mei, then the least you could do is make it as inviting as possible, and that takes a concerted design effort. If you have a traditional room that is separate for dinging purposes, then that is okay and you can decorate it as much as you want; but for many that do not have the luxury of space, Zaisu chairs are among the best ways to utilize the little space you have.

What are Zaisu chairs?

These are Japanese chairs that have a back similar to a normal chair, but have no legs. You will usually find them in a traditional room, and used in conjunction with tatami mats, in addition to a kotatsu table that accompanies them. You can also find them in numerous styles, and they are very common in Japan.

The traditional style of sitting properly is referred to as seiza, which is kneeling and placing your weight on the top of your lower leg, while you fold them under your body. However, it can become painful and uncomfortable if you are not used to it, so the Zaisu is preferred by many people because it supports the back. It also helps your legs stay comfortable, since you can stretch them in front of you instead of tucking them in.

How it works

The chair is very common in a traditional Japanese rooms, which are commonly referred to as washitsu – even though not all homes have these rooms. For the homes that do, then it is likely that they are reserved for visitors or special events. These rooms have unique mats that are known as tatami mats, in addition to other pieces of furniture like shoji windows and doors.

The specialized tables are used to serve traditional Japanese meals, then you and other diners will sit on the tatami mats or zabutons, which are cushions that you place around the table. The tables will also come with their own heating system, which is found under it, while a quilt on the top covers the table frame that stops any heat from escaping.

The chairs come in various styles. Some come with an added feature, which makes them even more comfortable than the usual Zaisu floor chair. They have extra balance that allows you to rock them back slightly. The back of the chair (where the seat and back join) is also at an angle, which gives your back extra support.

What are they made of?

The most common style of Japanese floor chair you will get is the ‘tatami’, although you can also get them in other styles. This specific word comes from the verb ‘tatamu’, meaning ‘to fold’.

The earliest mats were made from bamboo, and one folded them after use to store them. The intention was to add an extra layer on the floor to help make your sitting comfortable. Others are made from woven linen, plastic and wood.

When do you use a floor chair?

You can use these in a variety of situations, although the most common situation is using them as an accompaniment for short legged tables. If the idea of eating on a western dining table is not the most exciting for you and you prefer a small coffee table, they can also come in handy.

In addition, if you have a small apartment or working with a small space of your dining room, they are very efficient at utilizing the area.

One major advantage they have is their easy storage. Because the Japanese are very efficient at maximizing even the least amount of space you can think of, these chairs are easy to store away when you are not using them. Their organic and sleek design is also a plus, and they are increasingly loved by furniture enthusiasts everywhere due to this reason.

One thing to note is their increasing use in other rooms of the home, especially the living room. Because if their design, they are increasingly becoming useful to use in other sections of the home, and living room chairs are incorporating them more. The only difference they have is the extra padding, especially on the back of the chair, for a more comfortable experience.

Elements that make them useful

Efficiency of space It is a fundamental part of the culture to utilize resources efficiently – even spacing in a house. That means you will find one room having several purposes, as opposed to the western style of housing where each room has a specific purpose. That makes Zaisu chairs useful, since they take up very little space, and you can store them away when you are not using them.

Simplicity

Because the culture puts a high value on simplicity, it also means they hold in high regard the designs of a room and all its elements. This also means any Japanese room you step in has minimal clutter, and everything is decorated very sparingly, making them an ideal choice if you do not have much space in your home to work with.

Use of natural materials

The making of authentic Japanese furniture, including Zaisu chairs, emphasizes the use of natural materials to reducer wastage and pollution to the environment. In addition, many homes also have some interior plants to make the rooms more homely and spacious.

Use of subdued colors

The materials that are used to make these chairs and other types of furniture include bamboo, wood, rice straw and paper, instead of relying on painting them after they are done. When you use unnatural colors or objects, you will always tend to see neutral palettes that remain subdued, such as browns and off-whites.

Traditional design elements

There are two interior elements of interior design, fusuma and tatami. The Fusuma style incorporates sliding panels that are made of cloth or wood, while tatami has floors made from rice straw mats. The chair you eventually decide on will factor in the style you are using.

Zaisu - Japanese floor chair
Different kind of zaisu for sale at the Nitori (ニトリ) in Japan. Prices vary based on the type and material used.

Final thoughts

Zaisu chairs are among the most efficient ways of utilizing space, especially when you have a small area to work with. You do not need to leave your dining area looking drab and cluttered, and these are the perfect addition concerning that. You only need to take into account some Japanese interior design principles to make your room look inviting and pleasing even for visitors, and also consider incorporating other traditional Japanese pieces of furniture to make a harmonious atmosphere.

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