Seiza refers to:
The act of sitting in the right posture as well as the sitting position itself.
The style of sitting with the knees together and the legs folded under the body.
Kamiza (the seat of honor), the most important seat, or the seat where the guest of honor sits.
This article describes the first meaning, i.e. the style of sitting with the knees together and the legs folded under the body.
Seiza (正座, originallly written 正坐) means the act of sitting in the right posture as well as the sitting position itself, specifically the style of sitting with the knees together and the legs folded under the body. It is one aspect of the traditional Japanese lifestyle that includes not wearing shoes in the house and sitting on tatami mats.
It is necessary to approach the history of seiza from two directions: when did the seiza style (described below) start, and when did the style begin to be considered as seiza?
Originally, seiza was the posture adopted when worshipping Kami in Shinto or Buddha in Buddhism, or when prostrating oneself before the Shogun. In everyday life, samurai, women, and even participants in tea ceremonies, typically used agura (sitting cross-legged) style or sat with one knee drawn up. One factor why sitting in the seiza style became popular in the early Edo period was that when the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) adopted the Ogasawara school of etiquette, the Daimyo (feudal lords) were required to use seiza style when they all gathered to meet the Shogun under the Sankinkotai system, which required them to spend every other year in Edo, and the custom then spread to their domains. Another factor was that the use of tatami mats began to spread among the common people during this period. According to 'Japanese People's Style of Sitting' (Shigaku zasshi [Journal of Historical Studies] Volume 31, No. 8, 1920) written by Tatsukichi IRISAWA, sitting in the seiza style spread among people during the period from 1688 to 1736. On the other hand, 'Origin of Seiza' by Rie KAWAMOTO and Michikazu NAKAMURA (Tokyo Kasei University Journal, No. 39, 1999) points out that, judging from descriptions contained in 'Sumario de las cosas de Japon' (1583), this style of sitting was common among lower-ranking samurai and peasants in the late 16th century. Moreover, due to the fact that the sitting styles of Buddha statues found at ancient sites or made in the Nara period are the same as the current seiza style, it is likely that the style itself was commonly used even before the Edo period.
The word 'seiza' was not used before the Edo period; instead, the style was called 'kashikomaru' or 'tsukubau.'
Since the word 'seiza' did not appear in the 'Genkai' dictionary published in 1889, it is regarded that the concept of 'seiza' originated in or after the Meiji period.
A pre-Edo period seiza style, that today is sometimes called otoko suwari, can be seen in many Japanese paintings. This style is often used when the legs fell asleep due to sitting in the post-Edo period seiza style for a certain period of time.
To sit in the seiza style, one first kneels on the floor and rests the buttocks on the heels; this position is called kiza (kneeling position). Then, the tops of the feet are put flat on the floor and the buttocks are finally lowered all the way down on the heels. The hands are placed modestly on the knees or on the thighs, and the back is kept straight. Traditionally, women sit with the knees together while men separate them slightly. Some martial arts, notably kendo (Japanese art of fencing) and iaido (art of drawing the Japanese sword), may prescribe that men also sit with the knees together (to protect the crotch), or sit with two fist widths of distance between them. Shintaido (literally "new body way," an avant-garde martial art) prescribes a different type of seiza called kaihotai seiza, in which one sits with the legs open as wide as possible to open and develop the body. Also, when sat in the seiza style, the big toes are often overlapped in order to stop the legs falling asleep. In the past, men were supposed to put the left big toe on the right, and women were supposed to put the right big toe on the left; however, no such rules exist toady. Some martial arts, such as iaido, prescribe not overlapping the toes because it will delay the movement of raising a knee from sitting in seiza style.
The way of entering and exiting the seiza position depends on the clothing one is wearing, and there are formalized manners governing the movements.
One may sit seiza style on any surface, including carpeted and hardwood floors, as well as on tatami mats. When sitting seiza style on such hard surfaces, zabuton (traditional Japanese cushions) are often used.
Sitting cross-legged is not considered good manners; instead, it is considered casual and inappropriate for formal occasions. However, sitting cross-legged may be permitted for people such as the elderly who find the seiza style difficult.
Sitting seiza style is a required part of some traditional Japanese arts such as tea ceremony, classical Japanese dance, and budo (martial arts). Even though sitting in seiza style is not always necessary in modern times when most houses are built in a western style, the seiza style is passed from one generation to another as a traditional Japanese way of sitting.
The negative side of sitting in seiza style is that it often causes the legs to fall asleep. Also, because this style puts pressure on the knees, it is a painful position for people who have problems with their legs and backs.
In the Okinawa dialect, this sitting style is called hizamanchu or, when translated into Okinawan Japanese, hizamazuki.
In China, seiza style was the formal style of sitting during the Spring and Autumn period and the Warring States period. At that time, Chinese people wore 'kaidangku' open-crotch pants.
It is thought people used the seiza style because sitting with legs stretched straight or with the knees drawn up to the chest would expose the genitals.
Later, as kaidangku pants fell out of fashion and the use of chairs became popular, people ceased to sit in the seiza style.
In the Korean Peninsula, seiza is considered the sitting style of criminals.
Moai statues in Easter Island are naked and sitting in the seiza position.
Effects on the body
Since sitting in the seiza style hinders blood flow, it could have an adverse effect on the growth of legs, causing short legs or bow-legs, and some people tell their children not to sit in seiza style.