Traditional Japanese chair with a zabuton and a separate armrest

A zabuton (kanji: 座布団, hiragana: ざぶとん, 'sitting futon',[1] Japanese pronunciation: [d͡za̠bɯ̟ᵝtõ̞ɴ] ZAH-boo-tawn) is a cushion for sitting that is commonly used in traditional Japanese settings.[2] Zabuton is a Japanese loanword[3] that is also sometimes used in Western culture to describe the zaniku, a flat mat that a zafu is placed on.[1]

The zabuton is generally used while sitting in a seiza or agura position[4][5] and may also be used when sitting on a chair. Zabuton are used during meditation such as zazen.[6] In a more casual setting, the zabuton can be used in conjunction with a zaisu, a type of Japanese legless chair, with or without an accompanying kyōsoku (脇息), a Japanese-style armrest. Ordinarily, any place in Japan where seating is on the floor will be provided with zabuton for sitting comfort. The length and width of a typical zabuton is approximately 2 square feet (0.19 m2)[2] to 3 square feet (0.28 m2)[7] and usually an inch or two thick,[8] but can vary in thickness.[9] They are sometimes made with threaded embroidery[10] and tassels on the four corners and at the center of the zabuton, and often with a removable outer cover that can be washed separately.[11]

Zafu and Zabuton for sitting meditation (Zazen)


a lone person on stage sitting on a larger zabuton speaking into a microphone
A zabuton used during a rakugo performance

Zabuton are typically packed with cotton for cushioning, with an outer cover made of fabric, usually also cotton. The outer cover is sometimes alternatively made of a variety of other materials such as silk, linen, leather, or washi.[12] Zabuton were commonly made using meisen until the 1960s when meisen production ceased.[13]

The zabuton originates from an earlier type of cushion called a shitone (Japanese: ), used in early Japan by the aristocratic class.[9] A shitone is roughly the same size and shape as a zabuton, but consists of layers of straw matting covered with cloth as opposed to the cotton-filled zabuton.[12]: 153  One traditional method of making a zabuton involves layered cotton stuffing laid on top of a square piece of fabric, folded in half with two sides stitched closed. The bundle is then rolled and then turned inside out so that the stuffing is inside the fabric, rather than stuffing the fabric into an opening in the cloth.[10]

Prior to the introduction of zabuton, enza (Japanese: 円座, lit.'round seats') were commonly used as cushioning on wooden floors. These were circular, plaited grass cushions that were gradually replaced in everyday usage by the shitone and zabuton during the Edo period (1600–1868)[12] after cotton was introduced to Japan.[14]

Cultural usage

a large red pad with four darker red zabuton on it with a metal bar surrounding three sides
A sumo box seat

Japanese culture has societal norms and etiquette around zabuton, including the proper way to accept a zabuton and the correct way to sit or rise from one,[15] and how to bow when seated on one.[16] The placement of a person's zabuton in a room can indicate that person's position in a social hierarchy[17] or a position of honor.[18]

In Zen meditation, practitioners sit on a zafu, which is typically placed on top of a zabuton. The zabuton serves to cushion the knees and ankles while the zafu supports and cushions the rest of the body.[6] This combination of zabuton and zafu is used to support the body during long periods of meditation,[19] especially for those who are unaccustomed to being in the seiza position for long periods of time.[6]

In sumo, members of the audience throw zabuton toward the ring after a yokozuna is defeated by a lower-ranked wrestler, as a way of heckling the defeated wrestler[20] in a practice called Zabuton-wo-nageru (Japanese: 座布団を投げる, lit.'throwing zabuton cushions').[20]: 44  Throwing zabuton in this fashion has risks, including the potential for causing personal injury and damage to property.[21]

In yose, notably on the long-running television show Shōten, comedians receive zabuton as a form of scoring, which are also taken away as punishment for bad jokes. The first comedian on Shōten to receive ten zabuton is declared the winner.[22] Zabuton are used in rakugo by both the performer and the audience.[23] Before adopting Western-style chairs in the 1930s, Japanese movie theatres used zabuton for patron seating.[24]


  1. ^ a b Dōgen (1996). Leighton, Taigen Daniel (ed.). Dogen's pure standards for the Zen community: a translation of the Eihei shingi. Translated by Leighton, Taigen Daniel; Okumura, Shohaku. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. p. 233. ISBN 0-585-04623-9. OCLC 42854986. Archived from the original on 2023-01-10. Retrieved 2023-01-10.
  2. ^ a b Smith, Richard Alan (January 1981). "Comfort, room use and economy of means in the Japanese house". Building and Environment. 16 (3): 174. doi:10.1016/0360-1323(81)90010-X. Archived from the original on 2022-06-21. Retrieved 2023-01-10 – via ScienceDirect.
  3. ^ Evans, Toshie M. (1997). A dictionary of Japanese loanwords. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. p. 223. ISBN 978-0-313-37004-5. OCLC 528863578. Archived from the original on 2023-01-10. Retrieved 2023-01-10.
  4. ^ Oshima, Kimie (June 2011). "Japanese Cultural Expressions Seen in English Rakugo Scripts". Asian Englishes. 14 (1): 46–65. doi:10.1080/13488678.2011.10801293. ISSN 1348-8678. S2CID 61198800. Archived from the original on 2022-12-26. Retrieved 2023-01-10 – via Taylor & Francis.
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  6. ^ a b c Buksbazen, John Daishin (2002). Zen meditation in plain English (1st ed.). Boston: Wisdom. p. 31. ISBN 0-86171-316-8. OCLC 48588920. Archived from the original on 2023-01-10. Retrieved 2023-01-10.
  7. ^ Irwin, Ronald R. (2002). Human Development and the Spiritual Life: How Consciousness Grows Toward Transformation. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum. pp. 9–10. ISBN 0-306-46606-6. OCLC 48131724. Archived from the original on 2023-01-10. Retrieved 2023-01-10.
  8. ^ Ford, James Ishmael (2018). Introduction to Zen koans: learning the language of dragons. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications. p. 47. ISBN 978-1-61429-315-6. OCLC 1001340501.
  9. ^ a b Matsumoto, Eleanor; Fujii, Jeanne H. (February 1955). "Make a modern zabuton". ScholarSpace. Archived from the original on December 26, 2022. Retrieved November 29, 2022.
  10. ^ a b "There's a trick to making zabutons". The Honolulu Advertiser. October 31, 1973. pp. G–2. Archived from the original on December 26, 2022. Retrieved December 26, 2022 – via
  11. ^ Mason, Nancy (June 22, 1985). "Zabutons by Mrs. Reeb Bring Orient to Atlanta". The Atlanta Constitution. p. 15. Archived from the original on December 26, 2022. Retrieved December 26, 2022 – via
  12. ^ a b c Koizumi, Kazuko; 小泉, 和子 (1986). Traditional Japanese furniture (1st ed.). Tokyo: Kodansha International. p. 99. ISBN 0-87011-722-X. OCLC 13092659.
  13. ^ Wada, Yoshiko Iwamoto; Arai, Masanao (February 1, 2011). "Kimono Mode and Marketing: Popular Textiles for Women in Early Twentieth Century Japan". Research Journal of Textile and Apparel. 15 (1): 108. doi:10.1108/RJTA-15-01-2011-B012. Archived from the original on December 26, 2022. Retrieved January 10, 2023 – via Emerald Group Publishing.
  14. ^ Hanley, Susan B. (1999-06-08). Everyday Things in Premodern Japan: The Hidden Legacy of Material Culture. University of California Press. p. 95. ISBN 978-0-520-21812-3. Archived from the original on 2023-01-10. Retrieved 2023-01-10.
  15. ^ Hamabata, Matthews Masayuki (1986). "Ethnographic boundaries: Culture, class, and sexuality in Tokyo". Qualitative Sociology. 9 (4): 354–371. doi:10.1007/BF00988464. ISSN 0162-0436. S2CID 143902790. Archived from the original on 2023-01-10. Retrieved 2023-01-10 – via Springer. My lessons in zabuton etiquette proceeded on to the timing of the acceptance of a should or should not hop off the zabuton to perform tetsuki...
  16. ^ Hamabata, Matthews Masayuki (1991). Crested kimono: power and love in the Japanese business family. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. p. 12. ISBN 9780801499753. OCLC 1285463729. Archived from the original on 2023-01-10. Retrieved 2023-01-10.
  17. ^ Mikuni, Makiko (2022-07-03). "My perception of Japanese-style basic encounter groups ~ learning from facilitating encounter groups~". Person-Centered & Experiential Psychotherapies. 21 (3): 7–8. doi:10.1080/14779757.2021.1938185. ISSN 1477-9757. S2CID 236287250. Archived from the original on 2022-12-26. Retrieved 2023-01-10 – via Taylor & Francis.
  18. ^ Traphagan, John W. (2005). "Heroes of the Antimodern: "Respect for the Elderly Day" and Writing the Narrative of the Elder Generation in Japan". Journal of Ritual Studies. 19 (2): 102. ISSN 0890-1112. JSTOR 44368741. Archived from the original on 2022-12-26. Retrieved 2023-01-10.
  19. ^ Bell, Charlotte (2012). Yoga for Meditators: Poses to Support Your Sitting Practice. New York: Rodmell Press. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-930485-78-5. OCLC 784885649. Archived from the original on 2023-01-10. Retrieved 2023-01-10.
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