During moments of reflection and contemplation, a person who wants to meditate could choose from a wide variety of tools or furniture in order to make their mediation easier. Even though there are numerous types of pillows, mats, and cushions sold to aid in meditation, some of them have been successful during periods of reflection such as the zafu meditation pillow that is regularly used for siting in many Asian countries. A zafu is a round cushion with gathered sides that can be treated either as a utilitarian accessory or as a meditation cushion. Zafu is usually interpreted as a “sewn seat” in American English, but its Japanese meaning is entirely different. In Japan, zadescribes a seat while fu is the soft and fluffy fibers of disintegrated reed mace seed heads. Reed mace is a tall marsh shrub with cylinder-shaped seeds which burst when they become matured, shedding enormous amounts of down. It is this down that is stuffed into zafu cushions.
The original filling of a zafu was therefore the fluffy fiber of reed mace but modern ones contain stuffing made from buckwheat hull and organic kapok. The Japanese zafu comes from China, where the cushions were usually filled with reed mace or kapok, which is the seed pod fluff of the Ceiba tree found in the rainforest. The cushions were used to aid in meditation sessions. The words zazen (seated meditation), futon, zafuton and zabuton (Japanese rectangular cushion for sitting or kneeling) are closely connected. However, westerners refer to zafus as meditation cushions, and zabuton is the cushioned mat on which a zafu rests.