Creature Comforts

Japanese sunken hearth
Irori. Photo credit: Karen Kao

Last week, an article caught my husband’s eye. The main photo displays a Japanese hearth sunken into the wooden floor — the irori, a place where family and guests gather to share tea or a meal. A cast-iron tea kettle hangs above the flame. A tripod awaits the stone pot containing the evening meal. Floor lanterns add light to an otherwise murky darkness. If you thought there might be a chair somewhere in the room, think again.

Whether you’re staying in a bullet hotel in hyper-modern Tokyo or a thatched roof farmhouse in rural Shirakawa-go, you’ll spend most of your time seated on the floor. There will be a cushion for your butt and maybe support for your back. There might be enough room under the table to stretch out your legs but it’s not how it’s done. If you really want a chair, go to Starbucks.

The memory of my aching knees while in Japan sparks memories of other places we saw on our round-the-world adventure. To be more specific, I am a fan of creature comforts so I think about my favorite chairs.

A Vietnamese daybed

An Bang was once a fishing village midway down the coast of Vietnam. There are still fishermen there who ply their trade from inside a round basket boat. But there are also hotels to service the growing number of visitors to the city of Da Nang, the new high tech center of Vietnam.

For us, An Bang is an attractive base from which to explore the wider area: picturesque Hoi An, the former imperial capital of Hue, and the ancient temple complex of My Son. Have scooter, will travel!

Daybed in An Bang. Photo credit: Karen Kao

Whether by design or neglect, our part of An Bang still looks like a fishing village. Narrow alleys wander in unpredictable directions. An inner courtyard separates each home from the alley. Fishermen mend their nets in the courtyard. Locals use it to park their scooters. The ladies who rent out sun loungers on the beach use their courtyard as a kitchen to feed tourists.

Our inner courtyard features a daybed. An electric fan hangs above the bed to shoo away the mosquitoes. A tree stump stands to one side of the daybed, ready for a glass of mango juice. In the morning, I sit on the daybed and write. The art of traveling around the world for any significant amount of time is to know when to stay still.

The hammock chair

The North Island of New Zealand is populated by sheep and so the homes you find in a place like Donnellys Crossing were built by sheep ranchers. Rambling, wooden houses where pale roses climb the trellis. We stay in one-half of a former sheep ranch. A series of small rooms leads out to a veranda with a view of the creek. My husband claims the stuffed armchair while I monopolize the hammock chair.

hammock chair
Chair hammock. Photo credit: Frans Verhagen

It’s a chair made especially for me. Low enough for me to climb into without danger to life or limb. Wide enough for me to sit with my legs crossed or fully extended. It’s an excellent chair to read or listen to birdsong.

The homes that the first European settlers built in New Zealand look much like the ones they left behind in England, Ireland, and Scotland. They look nothing like the meeting houses the Maori build. Those wharenui are elaborately carved, inside and out. Woven mats cover the floor. High-beamed ceilings create circulation. Statues are carved into the supporting pillars, abalone shells glinting in their eyes.

An Aussie electric couch

We have the extraordinarily good fortune to spend a few days in the home of my friend on Bruny Island. She calls it a shack, the term Australians use to refer to their summer homes, but the place is far from humble. The property reaches down to the sea and a monumental blue gum tree dominates the yard. There’s a hammock here, too, but the Tasmanian rains keep us indoors to stoke the wood-burning fireplace.

View from Bruny Island
View from Bruny Island. Photo credit: Karen Kao

Here, I find an electric couch. My friend is apologetic, even embarrassed, about its presence. But why? I stretch out, adjust the angle so my feet go up and my back relaxes. I can read or write here while my phone charges in the handy USB port built into this magnificent seating arrangement.

Even better, my friend is a fellow writer. Not only does she have a throw rug to keep me warm and a pantry full of snacks to sate my hunger, there’s also a marvelous collection of books to feed my soul.

Jessica Frances Kane warns against writers as house guests. A writer is too observant. She may see things in your life you’d rather not have broadcast. Even worse, you may end up as a character in her next novel.

No worries, my friend. All I’m looking for is a comfortable chair.