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Japanese Culture
Seiza
Seiza (正座, せいざ, literally "correct sitting") - The traditional formal way of sitting in Japan.

To sit seiza-style, one first kneels on the floor, folding their legs underneath their thighs, while resting the buttocks on the heels, with the tops of the feet flat on the floor. The hands are sometimes folded modestly in the lap and sometimes placed palm down on the upper thighs with the fingers close together. The back is kept straight, though not unnaturally stiff. Traditionally, women sit with the knees together while men separate them slightly, proportional to body size. Some martial arts, notably kendo and iaido, may prescribe up to two fist widths of distance between the knees. The big toes may rest side by side or are sometimes overlapped.

The act of stepping into and out of seiza is intended to be mindfully performed. There are codified traditional methods of entering and exiting the sitting position depending on occasion and type of clothing worn.

Seiza is most often done on tatami (woven straw mat) floors, but many people sit seiza-style on carpeted and even hardwood floors. Depending on the formality of the occasion, the setting, and the relative status of the person, it is sometimes acceptable to sit on a special cushion called a zabuton (座布団, literally a "sitting futon").

Sitting cross-legged is considered informal and is inappropriate for certain situations, but is sometimes permitted, especially for those for whom seiza is difficult, such as elderly or non-Japanese people. Sometimes stools are provided for elderly or injured people even when others are expected to sit seiza-style. Though in the case of non-Japanese it is advisable, particularly in formal situations, to at least try to sit seiza-style, unless one has grown up sitting in this posture, it may be difficult to assume it at all. Those unfamiliar with seiza will likely find that maintaining it for more than a minute or two tends to lead to loss of circulation, with the accompanying 'pins and needles' feeling, followed by painful burning sensations, and then eventually complete numbness in the legs. However, the physical discomfort lessens with experience as the circulation of the blood improves. Experienced seiza practitioners can maintain the posture for forty minutes or more with minimal discomfort.

Doing seiza is an integral and required part of several traditional Japanese arts, such as tea ceremony, meditation (Zazen), and certain martial arts. Seiza is also the traditional way of sitting while doing other arts such as shodo (calligraphy) and ikebana (flower arranging), though with the increasing use of western-style furniture it is not always necessary nowadays.

Many theatres for traditional performing arts such as kabuki still have audience seating sections where the spectators sit in seiza style.

Special seiza stools are available in Japan. They are folding stools, small enough to be carried in a handbag, which are placed between the feet and on which one rests the buttocks when sitting seiza-style. They allow one to maintain the appearance of sitting seiza while discreetly taking pressure off the heels and feet.

Walking on the feet and knees while in the seiza posture is considered more polite than standing up and walking regularly. To perform this knee-walking movement correctly the heels must be kept close together, and the body must move as a whole unit. It is because movement in Shikko forces one to engage the hips that it is considered valuable for aikido training.

Information source: “Seiza.” wikipedia.org. Article date: 17 Dec. 2007. Retrieved: Wikipedia. 8 Feb. 2008 <Seiza>.

Video - The following is the way to sit in seiza in kendo.
 
 

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