The Fascinating World of Japanese Tables: A Complete Guide

Japanese tables guide Japanese culture has always captured the imagination with its unique traditions and customs. One of the most well-known practices is the tradition of sitting on the floor for meals. While many Japanese...

Japanese tables guide Japanese tables guide

Japanese culture has always captured the imagination with its unique traditions and customs. One of the most well-known practices is the tradition of sitting on the floor for meals. While many Japanese homes have embraced Western-style tables and chairs, the traditional low-level tables continue to be popular.

But did you know that the influence goes both ways? Many Western homes are now incorporating Japanese tables or Japanese-style tables into their interiors. The appeal lies in their elegance, simplicity, and functionality.

In this article, we will delve into the fascinating world of Japanese tables, exploring their different types, styles, and historical significance. So, whether you're a fan of Japanese culture or simply looking for some inspiration for your own home, let's embark on this journey and discover the beauty of Japanese tables.

Japanese Tables and Dining History

Big table for 6 people in Japan Japanese table for 6 people

The custom of eating while seated on the floor has deep roots in Japanese culture and is said to have originated through the Shinto religion. The belief that kami (spirits) inhabit everything led to people showing respect to the spirits by using tatami mats for eating. This belief gave rise to the custom of sitting on tatami mats and using traditional Japanese mattresses, called zabuton or shikibuton, and kotatsu tables.

Besides cultural significance, the choice to dine on the floor is also influenced by practicality. In a country where space is often limited, dining in this way is a space-saving technique that allows for flexibility in the use of rooms.

The Different Types of Japanese Tables in the Home

Japanese tables come in various styles, but most are low-level. In restaurants, you'll often find yourself seated on tatami mats, which require removing your shoes before stepping onto them. However, many Japanese restaurants now offer multiple table styles to cater to individual preferences.

Chabudai

Chabudai table with short legs in Japan Chabudai table

Chabudai tables are commonly used when sitting on the floor. They usually have short legs and are often placed on tatami floors. Families who use chabudai tables often pair them with zabuton, thin pillows or cushions that serve as seating. These tables are versatile and can also be used as workbenches or study tables.

Kotatsu

Kotatsus table Kotatsus Japanese table

Kotatsu tables, similar to chabudai, are low-level tables. However, what sets them apart is the presence of an in-built electric heater underneath. People sit with their legs underneath the table, covered by a heavy blanket that retains the heat, creating a cozy atmosphere. Kotatsu tables are used for eating, studying, and even watching TV. In regions without central heating, kotatsu tables are especially popular during the colder months.

The history of kotatsu tables dates back to the 14th century, during the Ashikaga shogunate or Muromachi period. Originally part of a cooking hearth, kotatsu tables evolved with the addition of a seating platform and a blanket to trap the heat. Over time, the design was refined, and electric heaters replaced charcoal as the heat source.

Zen Tables

Zen tables are individual, low-level tables used for various activities such as drinking tea, studying, or enjoying a meal.

Japanese Tea Tables

Japanese tea tables types Japanese tea tables

Tea tables hold great importance in Japanese culture. They are typically small, low to the ground, and made of wood. These tables are designed to accommodate two people sitting opposite each other in the traditional Japanese style.

Japanese Tables in Restaurants and Bars

Japanese restaurants and bars offer a wide range of seating arrangements, each with its own unique atmosphere.

Kaunta Seki (Bar Seating)

Kaunta seki refers to bar or counter seating, commonly found in informal eating places such as ramen shops, izakayas, and noodle shops. In high-class establishments, kaunta seki is also used to create a more relaxed and informal dining experience. One notable dining style originating from Osaka is kappo, where the chef prepares the food in front of the customers while they sit at the counter, allowing them to witness the culinary artistry firsthand.

Zashiki (Tatami Seating)

Traditional restaurants often feature tatami mats and low tables. Guests are required to remove their shoes before stepping onto the tatami mats, following the Japanese custom of showing respect. Turning your shoes to face away from the tatami is also considered polite.

Horigotatsu

Horigotatsu tables are another type of traditional Japanese table. They are low to the ground but feature a recessed floor beneath them, allowing people to sit with their legs stretched out. This style combines the comfort of a tatami space with a Western-style sitting arrangement, making it ideal for group dining.

Teburu Seki (Table Seating)

In modern times, Western-style tables have become increasingly common in Japanese restaurants. Some establishments offer large tables for communal dining, where customers share a table with others. It is customary to greet your fellow diners before taking your seat.

Booth Seats

Seating order formal meal in Japan

Thanks to Western influence, booth seating with benches on each side of a table has become popular in casual restaurants, such as family restaurants, curry shops, and izakayas. This seating style allows diners to comfortably enjoy their meal without the need for chairs and adds a casual and cozy touch.

Kotatsu Seating

Just like in Japanese homes, kotatsu tables can also be found in some Japanese restaurants, although they are relatively rare. The presence of a kotatsu table adds a unique and cozy ambiance to the dining experience.

Final Thoughts on Japanese Tables

Exploring the world of Japanese tables offers a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of Japan. If you're visiting Japan, be sure to seek out restaurants that offer traditional seating arrangements as it provides a truly immersive experience. However, don't be surprised if you encounter Western-style tables in Japanese homes, as more and more people are adopting this style while still preserving the essence of their unique traditional low-level tables.

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