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A zaisu is a very particular style of Japanese chair. This chair sits directly on the floor with no legs beneath it. A short back is provided to give the user comfort and support.
These chairs are most commonly used in traditional Japanese rooms known as washitsu. Not all homes have a washitsu. In those that do, this room may only be used occasionally for special events or guests. Washitsu rooms have straw tatami mats on the floor and may feature other traditional pieces of furniture and decor such as shoji doors and windows.
Traditional Japanese meals are served at low tables. The diners will then sit directly on the tatami mats or on cushions, called zabutons, placed around the table. The correct sitting position for these occasions is known as seiza. When sitting in seiza, one kneels with the legs folded directly beneath the body.
While sitting in seiza was once very common in Japan, this practice has fallen out of style. This position can be uncomfortable when used for long periods of time. Foreigners, especially, may have difficulty with sitting in seiza through an entire meal.
Zaisu chairs provide a compromise between sitting in seiza on tatami mats or zabutons, and sitting in chairs with legs. The back of the zaisu chair provides the support needed for one to stretch out in a more comfortable position. The legs can be extended in front of the diner rather than tucked beneath him when he is using this type of chair.
Some styles of zaisu chairs have an additional feature that makes them even more comfortable. These chairs are balanced so that they can be rocked back slightly. In this position, the angled part of the chair, where the back and seat meet, supports the weight of the individual.
Zaisu chairs are available in a wide range of materials from metal to wood. Some zaisu chairs fold up neatly for convenient storage beneath low lying Japanese tables. To make the chairs more comfortable, a zabuton cushion can be added as well.
Though zaisu chairs are most commonly used for dining, this style is being applied to some living chairs as well. These tend to have padding on both the seat and back of the chair. Thus, a visitor to a Japanese style home may find different styles of zaisu chairs throughout the house.