A great little piece I found on http://www.dillonlin.net.

Our dojo here in Silverdale, Auckland was built with these factor specifically in mind.

The thought came to mind to post about a basic or classic dojo layout and the reasons for the layout being at such. Until now, I have been hesitant to present this partly out of a feeling I have not yet understood this subject conclusively. However, this subject recently became the topic of two blog entries by Geoff Salmon, a kendo kyoshi 7-dan sensei, on his blogkendoinfo.net, thus pre-empting my intentions (7-dan always do this too me). The discussion on that blog confirmed some of the things I observed or seen explanations for elsewhere. So I’ve gone ahead and incorporated everything I’ve understood so far into the featured drawing of this post (which is quite simple) and the explanation below.

First, it should be explained that a dojo is not merely a place for training. The word dojo is composed of two kanji:
dō (道) – which means “way” or “path”
jō (場) – which means “place”
The term originates from Buddhism and refers to the place where Siddartha Gautama attained enlightenment. As Buddhism, in particular Zen Buddhism, became popular among the bushi class of Japan, Buddhist terminology and metaphors entered into budo terminology. Thus, the dojo is seen as a place for traveling the “path” towards some ideal.
The elements and orientation of the dojo have some particulars. Geomancy ideas such as In-Yo/陰陽 (aka Ying-Yang) and Fu-Sui/風水 (aka Feng-Sui) have traditionally had a role in the overall orientation. However, I am not too versed in this so this is not something I will go into for now (some links at the end of this post go into this a bit more). Generally however, the main entrance should be on the south side of the building so that warm healthy air can enter the building. The idea comes from Fu-Sui which can be seen as pre-scientific environmental rules of thumb.
Once in the hall a dojo will have the following (orientation based on classic south entrance and my understanding):
Entrance (入口) – with the exception of the room from Huis-clos, a room needs an entrance. As mentioned above this should be on the south side. According to Dave Lowry (references at the end of this post) this should be towards the left/west side of the dojo.
Kamiza (上座) – consisting of the kanji for “top” and “sit” (as in an action), this is the senior side of the dojo opposite the main entrance. Along this side is where the sensei (one or several) will sit. It is almost always the long side, e.g. if the main entrance is on the alternative location (west wall) the kamiza is still along the north wall. I have seen two cases (Shinjuku Sports Center’s dojo and Shinjuku Cosmic Center’s dojo) where the kamiza is on the same side as the entrance as the opposite side has extensive floor to ceiling glass walls (thus more appealing for the sensei to look out).
Shimoza (下座) – consisting of the kanji for “bottom” and “sit”, this is the junior side of the dojo opposite the kamiza.
Joseki (上席) – consisting of the kanji for “top” and “seat” (as in a place for sitting), this is the “most comfortable seat in the house” and is a term used in general Japanese etiquette. For example, the dinner table, train and taxi will have joseki. In a taxi it is the seat right behind the driver (first to get in and last to get out) and in a train it is the window seat facing the direction of travel (second place goes to the other window seat if there are facing seats). Other sources, including the discussion on Salmon-sensei’s blog, states this is the lateral wall adjacent to the kamiza and furthest away from the door. I somewhat disagree that this is the exact definition of the joseki though for convenience’s sake I will also refer to this wall as the “joseki” wall. However, in my view, rather than it being a wall, it is an orientation vaguely towards that corner but in front of the sensei, since joseki is one extreme of a continuum to the shimoseki (more on this below). If the entrance were on the right/east side of the dojo, then the joseki would be towards the left/west side. The joseki is where a VIP will sit, such as a visiting high grade sensei, dignitary or someone more senior in the organization who does not necessarily take part in the training (e.g. school principal, company president, police superintendant, etc.). Sometimes a resident sensei may sit here but from what I can tell, this is usually only the case if the resident sensei is a higher grade than the dojo leader sensei.
Shimoseki (下関) – consisting of the kanji for “bottom” and “seat”, this is the “least comfortable seat in the house”. In a taxi this is the seat next to the driver (one has to remember that despite perhaps being more comfortable, this seat would pay the driver so in Japanese corporate culture this is more junior than the middle back seat). In a train this is the aisle seat facing away from the direction of travel. In other sources the shimoseki is stated as the lateral wall closest to the door and opposite the joseki, however I must once again disagree that this is a precise definition as it is more like the southwest corner.
Shomen (正面) – This is the “front” of the dojo and usually coincides with the kamiza. From what I can tell, this may be the “joseki” wall if the entrance is along the “shimoseki” wall.
Keikojo/Embujo (稽古場/演武場) – this is where training/demonstration takes place.
Perimeter (周囲) – actually I never came across a proper name for this so this is my own term. This is an area, not always or even usually clearly defined in a dojo, that is off the keikojo. In the case of Yushinkan this was the area where the floor is not sprung and is for observers to sit, bags to be placed, equipment to be held, etc. In some dojo this separation is defined by columns, which means the perimeter could be called an aisle (roka/廊下). I have shown the perimeter in this case along the two junior walls. However, from what I can tell from photographs of the Kyoto Budokan and the old Noma Dojo (which have column separated aisles) the perimeter could be on all four sides (Kyoto Budokan) or along the kamiza and shimoza sides (Noma Dojo).
Entry Foyer (genkan/玄関) – This is an area that is lower than the dojo floor (often by just one step) where shoes are removed. A shoe shelf will usually be present here.
Kamidana (神棚) – is a small shrine placed high up on the wall (usually only very slightly below the ceiling). Classically this is along the kamiza but alternatively may be on the “joseki” wall or even on the shimoza wall. The kamidana is within the same “room” as the keikojo so if the perimeter is separated from the keikojo by columns, then the kamidana is placed within the keikojo side of the columns. The orientation towards the kamidana is called shinzen (神前) or “front of gods” so the command to bow to the kamidana is “shinzen-ni rei.” Kamidana being a shinto element are usually not present in dojo outside of Japan so a bow to shomen replaces a bow to the kamidana.
Tokonoma (床の間) – this is a wall inset that may or may not be present. It is an element from traditional Japanese rooms (washitsu/和室) for the display of scrolls, flowers, etc. From what I have seen at various ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), tokonoma are preferably along the kamiza (in a ryokan the wall furthest from the door and adjacent to the window) but could be anywhere except the window wall. In dojo layouts, I have seen it along the kamiza or the “joseki” walls but not along the other two.
Regarding my view on joseki-shimoseki, I believe these are orientations that are on extreme ends of a continuum rather than the two walls that are adjacent to the kamiza and shimoza. For the sake of convenience one could refer to these walls in this way. However, in my view since there are two senior-junior orientations (north-south, east-west), joseki and shimoseki are terms of seating arrangement etiquette. If this were expressed spatially, the dichotomy is perhaps more of an angle that governs a somewhat complicated seating pattern, which may in fact vary from dojo to dojo. The highest seat is along the “joseki” wall facing towards the “shimoseki” wall. This seat may in fact be empty most of the time. If occupied it is slightly in front of the sensei sitting along kamiza (from the point of view of that sensei). Joseki may also refer to a row of tables in the case of shinsa (grading) or embu (demonstration) which is not always at the “joseki” wall.
After this comes the line of seats for the sensei side, with the dojo leader sensei (not always the highest grade) sitting either in the middle of the kamiza side facing towards the shimoza or slightly closer to the joseki side. Any lower ranking sensei will sit on the kamiza side in descending order towards the “shimoseki” wall. Sometimes assistant instructors/high ranking sempai will sit on the kamiza side flanking the sensei.
Pupils will sit on the shimoza side, again in descending order of rank or age (in past there was more of a clean coincidence between the two) from joseki towards shimoseki. If two lines are required, then the more senior line is in front of the more junior line (from the point of view of the pupils). Within a kendojo, things like whether one is wearing armor or not may trump seniority. Also, if the practice is for children, then any adult pupils who happen to be also practicing will be considered junior to the children. The arrangements can become quite complicated and it is not always so clear cut (leading to jostling for humility).
Consider this post a work in progress. I hope to have a more conclusive understanding of what is contained here as well as find more information about hidden meanings of dojo layout and traditional architectural orientation.
For further reading here are some of the online sources I drew from:
First blog post by Salmon-sensei on this topic:
Second blog post by Salmon-sensei on this topic:
Part 1 of Davy Lowry’s article about the layout of a dojo and possible relationship to Taoism:
Part of an old series about budo, Otake-sensei of Tenshinshoden-Katori-Shinto-Ryu explains how In-Yo affects the choice of building site in this video (starting at about 1:15). The art of fortification building is actually within this ryuha’s curriculum:
Thanks for taking the time to read this blog, and I hope it makes you want to find out more about Aikido