Why Japanese People Sit on the Floor Not on a Chair?

A Japanese traditional room with tatami mats, over which a Japanese traditional courtyard is seen.
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We may have overstayed on the floor

Japanese people, even people of high rank like Shogun (samurai generals), had sat on the floor since ancient times. It’s only 150 years since chairs or the chair culture spread in Japan, as I wrote before. When I was a kid, about 30 years ago, there was a sofa set in the living room already. Most of my family members, however, often sat on the floor, leaning against the sofa. Funnily enough, my dogs slept on the sofa, instead. I’m sure it was not a style particular only to my family. When hanging out at my friends’ houses at that time, like playing video games together, I found they did it in the same manner. The lifestyle of living on the floor may be printed in the DNA of Japanese people.

We can’t stay still even on the sofa

Of course, I’m just kidding. It’s not such a biological issue. Simply, the average size of Japanese houses is small, and the no-chair culture was a wisdom of life in order to make effective use of a limited space. Japanese people sat on the floor and had meals on a low table. After dinner, the low table was put away for a sleeping space and futon. For such people spending most of their time on the floor, even the space of sofas is too small. We, at home on the floor, kinda return to nature: lying face-up or -down; sitting with the knees held or the legs crossed or straight-out, etc. One thing that is for sure is no one never sits up straight at home, though I’m hoping I’m not the only one who thinks like this. This back-to-nature movement may happen due to one of the advantages of our culture: No shoes inside.

In Japan, the floor is clean because we take off shoes inside the home. It’s always unbelievable for me to see people hop on the bed with shoes on in some Hollywood movies, etc. By the way, do you know what it is for, a cloth sometimes seen on the bed of a hotel room? I was shocked when I learned what it was. The name of the cloth is a “bed throw” and used to preven dirt from shoes. This is also off the topic, but it is said that shoes were not developed so much but sandals (flip-flops) were in Japan because of the no shoe policy. Anyway, even on the sofa, in the same manner as that of our pre-chair era, we may subconsciously try to adjust sitting position, feel cramped, and go back to the floor. I believe this would be the cause of our giving up relaxing even on the sofa.

A sofa set upholstered with gray fabric, on which some cushions and a blanket

The sofa to pull Japanese people up from the floor

Now it’s our time to solve this issue as a leading furniture maker in Japan, and we launched a sofa some years ago to salvage Japanese people from the floor. It’s MOLA. The designer explained it was not a sofa but a place where people can relax. The seat cushions are made to be bigger especially in the depth direction and softer by using a lot of feathers, compared with other our sofas. The irregular shape of each modular unit will provide a relaxing space. I think it’s something more than a sofa set, it’s more like a personal hideout where you can return to nature.


Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.


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