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Zen Furniture

Updated on April 2, 2013

Zen Style Furniture

The word 'zen' is bandied about so much that we forget what it implies - it appears to apply to just about everything! The term Zen Furniture, for instance - precisely what is meant by the phrase? If we grasp the idea, we can then choose if we want to be guided by it's principles and decide if it fits in with the way we want to live.

Zen is quintessentially Japanese and brings to our minds images of perfectly formed gardens and peaceful Buddha statues, but of course these kinds of images are just shallow ideas about Zen. A valuable way of looking at it is to note that awareness is one of the keys to a peaceful existence, which is really what we all want out of life, even if we don't acknowledge the fact!

Our main problem is a very human one, in that mostly we have no idea how to live the relaxed life! All right then, how can Japanese furniture help us in our quest - let's explore a little further.

Photo By Chung Tai (Precious Light of Chung Tai) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Zen Furniture Has A Simple Design

Simplicity

Naturally, the things that surround us are an integral part of our lives and have a deep impact on our state of mind (and spirit). The furniture we choose to have in our home consists of individual items that we touch in some way or another each and every day, and it deserves much consideration. We don't have to religiously practice Feng Shui, but the skill of placing our furniture in accordance with the general concept, by choosing items of furniture that tend to reduce stress levels, makes a lot of sense.

Zen furniture is traditionally simply crafted, of course, but its not just that.The volumetric shape and outline convey a simple appeal that encourages us to feel 'at one' with our surroundings. Wood is a wonderful material for creating furniture with that 'Zen' feel. Bamboo is also good, and can be draped with plain pastel fabrics. Stunning furniture with traditional Japanese shapes can also be manufactured from metal and plastic, but materials that are natural help us to jeep in harmony with nature.

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YAMAZEN BSK-75-B Casual Kotatsu Japanese Heated Table 75x75 cm Black
YAMAZEN BSK-75-B Casual Kotatsu Japanese Heated Table 75x75 cm Black

A small serving table that's heated to preserve the taste of your cooking. Love style with practicality!

 
ORE International Black 4 Panel Plum Blossom Screen Room Divider
ORE International Black 4 Panel Plum Blossom Screen Room Divider

Screens are great changing the whole feel of a room - separating without closing off.

 
Oriental Furniture Enchanted Ladies Corner Cabinet
Oriental Furniture Enchanted Ladies Corner Cabinet

A luxury item with that Zen feel. Delicate, stylish and practical - and makes use of that spare corner space!

 
Creative Commons - Kraig Donald
Creative Commons - Kraig Donald

Peace With Your Furniture

An important characteristic of Zen thinking is awareness. Skilfully created items of furniture stimulate the awareness of our reality and help us to focus on what is here and now. Furniture brings to mind natural woods used in constructing it, and indeed, the commitment and skill of the craftsmen and women who created the tables, chairs, beds and cupboards that we become attached to each passing day.

It's a fact that perhaps we don't have much control over our immediate world outside of the home, but we try to make sure that our home decor mirrors our need to be comfortable and also peaceful in the world. Peaceful places help to produce people who are in turn peaceful - people at peace with themselves create peaceful communities - communities pull together and start building a more peaceful world. This is Zen! Zen Furniture is a very good beginning!

The Eternal Compromise

It might be a bit much to ask people from the Western world to start sitting on the floor with legs crossed and eat their meals at floor level, or even at a low table in the traditional Japanese style.

For many generations our way of living in the West has taken us away from mother Earth more and more. For example, the tables we eat from stand around thirty inches high and usually have the standard four legs.

By the way, the Japanese table also has four legs, for the most part. In the country regions of some countries, it's common to see stools and other practical items of furniture with only three legs. It's impossible for a stool with three legs to start wobbling - try it!. If you happened to be really poor and your floor house was broken up and not even, then furniture with three legs is just about your only option! Modern houses in the West, and most countries, are made with flat floors that accommodate four legs well.

Futon And Desk

By David McKelvey (Flickr: Ryokan) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By David McKelvey (Flickr: Ryokan) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Cross Those Legs While Sitting!

It's a sad fact that Western furniture adds to mankind's physical comfort, but doesn't make him any healthier. A deep and soft armchair sounds great, but it probably won't support your back enough, for instance, so that muscle fatigue and bone displacement results after some years. Standard design dining chairs tend to make us prone to slumping, which really isn't great for posture or bodily health.

The Japanese way of sitting with our legs crossed is much better for circulation of the blood, and additionally promotes a flexible skeletal structure as we advance in age. Present day dining tables are necessarily designed to match our upright sitting habit,. The table also gives support to the arms when doing other things, like sewing. Japanese tables aren't really designed to accommodate these kinds of activity.

By TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Perfect table - Defining Zen

When we do have tables nearer to the floor - coffee tables for example, we mostly use them in a functional way such as for holding magazines, or somewhere to put a cup while we might be reading close by in a comfortable chair. You may notice that kids generally just sit down on the floor and use that low coffee table for other things as well. A table in Zen furniture style should be almost by definition of simple form, but will also be beautiful and sturdy. It's a golden rule that all furniture should be a careful mix of material, function and form.

When all said and done, furniture should be practical and fit it's design purpose. The material works best if has value in its' own right, like a natural wood, bamboo or other living thing. Glass and steel don't positively affect the spirit in the same way that natural materials do. Wood can be cut and honed into exquisite forms, and has a dual role in that it reminds us of the skill of the craftsmen we paid to create the goods.

By 663highland (663highland) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
By 663highland (663highland) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Zen Furniture - Japanese Beds

Japanese beds are good example of Zen furniture. It is the one item of furniture that we use for the most amount of the time in any given day! If we are asleep for around eight hours for every twenty four, this means that our bodies are in contact with a bed for much longer than with other pieces of furniture our lives - only our clothes get more bodily contact, and then not all of them!

Of course, we might use a comfy armchair to read a book for for an extended period, eat at a dining table for an hour or so, but it doesn't compare to the hours we are asleep in bed. Even if we don't take into account the spiritual impact of the furniture surrounding us, it's quite obvious that beds are incredibly important and we should choose them carefully.

Zen Beds - Down To Earth

In the past, a Japanese style bed was just a tatami, which is a kind of mat placed on the floor. It might have been paper thin or up to two inches thick, and was simply rolled up when not in use. Tatami mats can be purchased at many stores that specialize in Japanese products, and these are normally thicker and not so uncomfortable as the traditional ones. Add a nice pillow and warm covering and you're good to go (or rather, your guest is!).

A significant difference between Japanese and Western life styles is that we live and sleep higher than ground level, and our oriental friends tend to live at ground level. It is common to sleep on the floor in the East.

The idea itself reflects an important Zen principle - when the body touches the floor, it is 'anchored' to mother Earth, and we live closer to her rhythms.

By Toby Oxborrow (Flickr: Futon) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Toby Oxborrow (Flickr: Futon) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Eastern Zen Meets Western Comfort

Some present Japanese beds are still a bit uncomfortable for our Western tastes, and we mostly look for a bed that gives us some reasonable compromise between the different extremes. It's true that Western beds are close to the floor, but but not really on the ground. We could just agree to split the difference and buy a bed that just about touches the ground!

You can purchase a mattress that combines a tatami and Western style mattress. These mattresses are much thicker, but don't have internal support or springing, relying on a firm natural filling to support the body. This is really important for supporting the back. The frame of a 'Zen' bed might be made of bamboo or wood, with a giving lattice made of wood to hold the mattress.

Usher By Usher Deodorant Stick Fresh 2.6 Oz
Usher By Usher Deodorant Stick Fresh 2.6 Oz

The traditional Japanese bed and ideal for guests - roll it up and put it away when done!

 
Worth Japanese Style Platform Bed by Modloft - FREE Inside Placement!
Worth Japanese Style Platform Bed by Modloft - FREE Inside Placement!

Zen style in the highest quality - sleep well, be well.

 

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    • PurplePansy LM profile image

      PurplePansy LM 4 years ago

      This was really interesting to read. When I was in college my roommate was from Japan. I was apologizing to her for this short little table that we had for the dining room table. It had really short legs but I had gotten it for free and I couldn't afford a normal table at the time. Turns out she loved the table; it made her feel right at home. I was also unable to afford a bed frame at the time. However she didn't have one either. We both had mattresses on the floor. Now you have pointed out all these reasons why this type of furniture might actually be better for our backs and posture. I should continue some of these Japanese traditions even though my friend from Japan is no longer here in the US because of the health benefits.