I drew this diagram for you to illustrate the simplicity of kamiza and shimoza, but then I realized the only camera I had the rather shoddy one my phone…

Beautiful Deportment 14
The Upper and Lower Seat in a Japanese Room

From ancient times, we have considered the kamiza (upper seat) and shimoza (lower seat). It is not unconditionally established whether the kamiza and shimoza are left or right. It changes depending on the time, location, and people.

  • In Japan, the side of the sunrise while facing south is the kamiza.

There is the saying: With the Emperor sitting at the North Star, it is ranked from the east facing south. It means that the Emperor is at the highest seat, sitting so the north star can be seen above him. Because the ranks are aligned from the East while facing south, the East is kamiza and the West is shimoza.

Usually in Japan, the exact center is the first ranked seat. Next, in rank is the East when facing south which is where the sun rises, and then below that is in the West, where the sun sets. The East when facing South is left, and the West is right. So left is kamiza, and right is shimoza. Because this left and right direction is judged by looking at it from the perspective of the kamiza, if you are looking at it from the shimoza, the left becames the right side and the right becomes the left side. (In Western countries, South facing East is the higher rank and north is the lower rank).

That the kamiza is on the right while looking at it from shimoza can be seen in how the hina matsuri dolls are displayed. Looking at it, the male doll (the prince), the Minister of the Left, the Sakura, and the lady-in-waiting carrying the long-handled decanter are on the right. Also, this is same as when one passes another person when walking and you keep to the left, leaving the right side–the kamiza–open. In China, there were periods of “esteeming the left, esteeming the right (Shousa, Shouyuu)” depending on the age. The Tang and Song periods, by which Japan was much influenced, were ages that esteemed the left. The word “demotion (lit. moving-left)”, meaning there is no leaving from the right, is from the Six-Dynasties Warring Period, which esteemed the right side.

In a washitsu, the kamiza is in front of the tokonoma and shimoza is the seat nearest the door. When seating many people, the first seat is in front of the tokonoma. The second seat is the right side when facing the tokonoma and the third seat is the left side. This is in the case of a hongatte (standard) room. In the case of a gyakugatte (reversed) room, the second seat is reversed with the third.