Detail of Img 25

The Yankee-suwari of Samurai
When I was searching through photographs from late Edo Japan, I had a rather large shock when I found image 25. The scene is at the entrance of a samurai family’s mansion. The scene is of a self-important looking warrior traveling to a castle in an extravagent palaquin decorated with black and gold lacquer.Those surrounding the palaquin wait upon the lord’s presence with lowered heads. What is that seated position called? All of the retainer-like warriors are in a position similar to “yankee-suwari”: this can’t just be my imagination. And not just this single picture either. I searched for other examples of the same thing, and there were! (Img. 26)

Img 26

A swarthy faced man is sitting on a stump wearing a crested haori coat. He holds an upright fan at his left knee and a book in his right hand. And indeed, he is looking self-important. Squatting down with both knees up is a person who appears to be like a townsman with his head lowered. This is the position called “yankee-suwari”.
I don’t think there are many people who feel this position similar to “groveling (hai-tsukubaru)” on the ground is artistically beautiful. Incidentally, the modern position of “seiza” was formally called “tsukubau”. About this, let me point out that the stance of seiza includes the implication of “groveling” or “submitting” by those inferior to oneself.
In image 25 which shows the same crouching position. While the warrior wearing a haori with his upper body erect isn’t very yankee-ish, the attendants without hakama who are leaning their chest against their thighs are most certainly doing what we now call “yankee-suwari”. Guessing from their dress, it seems possible they are townspeople employed as attendents by retainers not financially well off. This isn’t an established style of sitting, but has an air of nobody caring really how the feet are as long as the head isn’t held high.
To make this comparision is bad, but the posture of samurai waiting thier turn when attending at the imperial court is stylish and good-looking.
Image 27, from “Kasuga Gongen Genki-e”, is a scene at Fujiwara no Norimichi’s mansion. Among the retainers in front of the ox cart which Norimichi rides to serve at the imperial palace are four warriors sitting near the ox cart, with lacquered bows in their right hands. They readied in a position called “kata-shouza”, with their left knee standing up in contrast with their right knee spread open wide. Most likely skilled archers I suppose. The four men aligned and standing ready in tate-hiza like this has a majestic and magnificent feeling indeed. This position seems to endow those serving at the imperial court, no matter what duties they have, with an appropriate dignity.
It isn’t the signature phrase of the drama “Mito Komon”, but if an official said “You head is too high! Wait your turn!”, at once people lowered only their heads and took the position of “tsukubau” before them. If we assume this spread within warrior-class society, this way of sitting, which is used unchanged in any way by these commoners gambling at the crossroads (Img 28), was probably estalished. Even if that is so, when we look at the submissive flavour of this position (Img 25, 26), we can imagine how popular the low class samurai were of which old school rakugo often made fun.