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Goin’ Japanesque!

Dreaming of Working in Japan? Read About Kamiza and Shimoza, the Etiquette of Seating!

Japanese culture tends toward a certain fixation on details that are ultimately based in ancient custom. With continued modernization, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for this dedication to the small things to arise, but it goes without saying that if a person from overseas makes efforts in complying to these uniquely-Japanese rules of etiquette, they’re sure to leave a lasting and positive impression. Today’s lesson in manners will introduce the concept of “kamiza” and “shimoza,” which refer to higher (“kami”) and lower (“shimo”) seating (“za”) respectively. For homework, be sure to try putting these principles to practice when you next get the chance! Photo: http://blog.livedoor.jp/chikage_sukeroku/

 

The Basic Premise

Across all situations, the fundamental factor is essentially how close (or how far) a seat is from the entrance. The seat farthest from the door is the kamiza, and the seat nearest is the shimoza. Superiors, esteemed persons, and guests all sit in the kamiza.

 

For Japanese-style Rooms

toko-no-ma
Toko no Ma, https://www.flickr.com

Japanese rooms built in the shoin-zukuri style of architecture have an alcove space called a “tokonoma.” Set higher than the tatami-mat floor, the tokonoma is often decorated with an expert flower arrangement or a hanging scroll. This alcove is a sacred place and represents the “deepest” part of a Japanese-style room.
Related: Step into the Washitsu: A Traditional Japanese Room

kamiza-shimoza1
http://www.ma-support.co.jp/

In these rooms, the kamiza is the seat nearest to this sanctified place. Conversely, the closer a seat is to the entrance, the “lower” it is. On a note, in Japanese tea ceremony the seat directly before the tokonoma is reserved for the main guest of the ceremony.

In your everyday life, you’re most likely to encounter this set-up in the Japanese-style room of an izakaya pub as part of a company-organized nomikai (“drinking party”). Referring to the diagram, your supervisor would sit at #1, and the administrative assistant or secretary at #6.

 

For Western-style Rooms

kamiza-shimoza2
If you’re invited to an event in a Western-style room, there won’t be an alcove, so simply hold to the rule we introduced above: the seat farthest from the entrance is the kamiza. However, if there’s a sofa, the sofa is actually the kamiza, and when there’s a sofa that can sit more than two, that one becomes the kamiza. The idea is that it’s much more comfortable to sit and stretch out in a larger sofa. In some cases if Western-style rooms have a fireplace, the seat nearest the fireplace, warmed by the fire, can become the kamiza.

 

For Taxis

kamiza-shimoza3
http://fc-partners.net/

If you end up taking a taxi as part of your work duties, the kamiza is the seat behind the driver. This manner of seating is unique to Japan, as in many situations internationally the “best” seat (the kamiza) would actually be behind the passenger seat (seat #2 in the diagram).

 

We’ve shown you a few different examples for how seating etiquette changes with the situation, but if you attend a formal work meeting or even just an informal business chat, simply remember the principle of determining kamiza and shimoza by distance from the entrance. However, when you’re called for a job interview, the company interviewing you probably won’t make seating arrangements based on kamiza-shimoza principles. Simply go along with how they’ve set things up, and you’ll have no problems at all.

In many ways, kamiza-shimoza is a component of the “omotenashi” hospitality philosophy of Japan. If you’re goal is to work at a Japanese enterprise, be sure to learn and implement these rules and aim for that hire!

Related: Japanese Etiquette

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