座 za – sit
布団 futon – cushion (or bed)
Literally: sit cushion. Zabuton is a small futon, used to sit more comfortably on the floor.
The traditional way of sitting called seiza (pronounced: SAY-ee-zah) which translates as “proper sit”) is practiced when you kneel with your legs folded underneath you with your bum resting on your heels. This way of sitting conveys respect and is a healthy way of sitting. Sitting seiza opens your knee and ankle joints, engages your core muscles. It also maintains proper spinal alignment. Because sitting seiza creates a shape that is longer than wide, the zabuton are rectangular, rather than square in shape.
In modern times, zabuton are still widely used in Japan and worldwide. Zabuton can be used for meditation (where you can also sit cross-legged), as pillows for head, hips, legs and/or feet. You can also use them as cushions on chairs or as a throw pillow. Zabuton can make a perfect sitting accessory for when you have home gatherings and not enough sofa space or chairs. You can use zabuton for picnics too – just be careful not to spill your sake!
Futons from Japan sell 100% cotton-filled, handmade zabuton. The master maker needs to ensure the cotton filling layers are even and firm to provide the correct support – each cushion is a true work of art. The fusa (tassels) on the four corners of each zabuton represent good luck. Who wouldn’t want to be sitting on a pot of gold!?