I knew it! Seiza isn't that old after all...

Good morning everyone,

Did any of you ride your bikes home last night? I did. And it was pretty chilly! Today and tomorrow will be gorgeous and after that...who knows!? It's looking like rain and cloudy weather with highs in the mid 20s all week...

Do you do any traditional Japanese hobbies like tea ceremony, calligraphy or flower arranging? If so, you've probably spent a fair bit of time sitting seiza... 

The word seiza is written 正座 in Japanese. 正 (sei) means correct and 座 (za) means a seat, so seiza has a meaning of “sit correctly”. 
This is why, everyone, including Japanese people, thinks this is the right way to sit in Japan. 
Is seiza really the traditional way to sit for Japanese people? 
Not really. I mean yes, it´s one of the traditional ways of sitting, but not the only one, moreover this way of sitting is relatively new. It was introduced after the Meiji Restoration. 
According to a specialist in mind-body interventions of ancient Japanese, Hidemasa Yatabe, the concept of seiza and even the name was created by the government structured in the Meiji period. In other word, seiza was formed in the late 19th century by learning at schools and became the formal way of sitting for Japanese people. This means that seiza is a quite new custom for Japanese people.  
Then, what was the traditional way of sitting for Japanese people? Nothing fixed. If you look at paintings on fusuma doors, ukiyoe or statues of the shoguns and monks, they sit in variety of ways. You will find some in sieza but they are not the majority.
You may be surprised to hear that the master of the tea ceremony, Sen no Rikyu (千利休) made tea while sittingTatehiza (立て膝), like the portrait of a noble woman below-sitting with one knee up.
Three other common ways of sitting are variations of what we call 'cross-legged'...

There is Anza (安座). Basically, it's a way of sitting that looks like you're doing yoga. If you practice yoga, this may be familiar to you. 
And Agura (あぐら). This is cross-legged and is now quite a common way to sit on the floor.
And Rakuza (楽座). You put the soles of the feet together. I see many babies sit this way but for adults this may not be the most comfortable one. Rakuza seems to be a common way of sitting for the ancient Shogun or Emperors.
Then, there is Wariza (割座) also called onesan zuwari (お姉さん座り) which is a variation of seiza. First you sit seiza, then slide the legs on one side. Your bottom is on the floor-this is how a lot of Japanese women sit on the floor now. It's a way of looking formal like in seiza but without the numb legs. This samurai is even leaning onto his sword. 

Sonkyo (蹲踞) is what Japanese call, unching style (うんちんぐスタイル) because this is how people crouch in Japanese-style toilets. Samurai would usually sit this way even in the Edo period (after seiza was introduced). In samurai TV programs, all of them sit in seiza but in reality, sonkyo seems to be more common.   

is also called, “Yankii zuwari (ヤンキー座り)”. Rebellious youth in the 80s would sit like this and the name stuck.

Kikyo (跪居). It looks like sonkyo but you lift the heels and sit on the toes. If you have seen sumo, this is kikyo. 
The image of samurai sitting seiza style seems to be the influence of TV programs and films.

Have you ever sat seiza? Maybe you can do it better than me, but I can´t do it even for five minutes. After 10 minutes, my legs are already numb. Samurai were warriors and had to always be ready for a sudden attack. It wouldn´t have made much sense if they had numb feet and couldn't stand up, not to mention that moving from seiza to standing takes too long for a warrior. Until mid-Edo, the correct way of sitting (seiza) for samurai was agura (cross legs) or tatehiza (one knee up). What we now call seiza was actually called Kiza (危坐/跪座) back then. 
So when did people sit seiza (in the modern sense of the word)? 

Samurai were obliged to sit seiza in the presence of the shogun in the Edo period. It was the way of sitting to show obedience and loyalty. 

In the middle of the Edo period, seiza started to become more common. The book 正座と日本人 (Seiza to Nihonjin / Seiza and Japanese)” explains that seiza was a symbol of the control of the Shogunate. Shogun and Daimyo (feudal lord) forced the lower classes  to sit that way to show obedience. And it may have also been a way to sit as a courtesy in the hierarchical society...

Now seiza is used as a kind of punishment. If you don't do your homework or listen to the teacher, you are forced to sit seiza. Hmmm...maybe I should start this at my school. I bet a lot more people would do their homework, if I did! Ha ha!

So, now that I know how relatively new seiza is as a way of sitting, I can sit however I like when I'm in a tatami room without feeling guilty. And so can you! If someone gives you crap for sitting cross-legged, you can now give them a short lesson in Japanese history...ha ha!

Have a great day!

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