The main reason why the Japanese prefer floor seats to chairs is Tradition. Japanese are known for their strong discipline and their pride in culture, so it is no shock that they still continue to practice that tradition with strictness and pleasure. This tradition brings along with itself also many benefits, which are also reasons why the Japanese prefer to sit on the floor to eat.
In Japan, chairs are not a common phenomenon when it comes to eating. The concept of chairs is, without a doubt, accepted in Japan, but when it comes to eating, the Japanese prefer floor seats. What people find even more shocking is that even in up-scale and five-star restaurants, people would most likely find floor seats only and not chairs.
Here are the type of seatings for the floor (Click the image to see all).
How the Japanese adapted Floor setting Culture?
This tradition was adapted from the floor culture in China, and it was adapted into a more sophisticated “Tatami culture”. A tatami is a type of flooring material and a mat, which is still used in traditional Japanese-style rooms. It was traditionally made using rice straw to form the core. This is another reason why the Japanese prefer floor seats. Tatami were not solid floors and hence, could not support chairs for any length of time. But still the Japanese preferred to use the Tatami, that happened to be compatible with the Japanese climate very well.
Another reason why the Japanese prefer floor seats to chairs is Conservation of space. Japan is a small country; hence it has small apartments to accommodate the growing population. Having this floor culture was a way to save space. For example, after having their dinner or lunch, they could spread about their bedsheets and sleep.
One more reason for the preference for floor seats is the Natural Environment of Japan which is earthquake and tsunami-prone. Should the people in Japan face an encounter with one of these natural disasters, having fewer pieces of furniture would help in a quicker and safer escape?
Sleeping on the floor and doing with fewer pieces of furniture would both mean a faster and safer escape should the big one hit.
Geography of the country, Japan, is also another reason why the people in it prefer floor seats. Japan is an island country which is isolated from other countries, hence it is free from influences and invasions. Once the trade relationship between China and Japan broke down after the Song and Yuan Dynasties, chairs were not introduced in Japan for quite a long time. The Japanese are also known to stick with their traditions and way of life; once they have found an efficient solution to things, they will hardly move on from it and hence, will stick with it.
Types of sitting on Floor by Japanese
There are many ways of sitting on the floor. Seiza meditation, which is the polite and formal way to sit. An alternative is Agura, (which requires crossing legs) and Tatehiza (sitting with one knee up) and is more common and acceptable towards men. An alternative for Seiza for women is Yoko-Zuwari (sitting with your legs to the side, but folded back on themselves) Obachan-Suwari kneeling with your bottom flat on the floor and your legs out to the sides). Finally, there is Tai-Iku-Suwari (sitting with both knees up in front of you) which is usually used for education settings.
The preference to eat on the floor goes hand in hand with their tradition of not wearing shoes in houses. But the main reason why they choose to eat like this is that of their immense respect and discipline towards their tradition and also because they were exposed late to the outside influences of other countries and hence, their own cultures and way of life.