Kamiza and Shimoza (上座・下座)



If you have ever worked in Japan, these two words may sound familiar to you. If you haven’t, I guess these are terms that may come in handy when working in Japan.

What does Kamiza mean?

Kamiza (上座 ) refers to the higher seats. Kamiza is usually the safest and most comfortable place to sit in the room. It is usually the farthest away from the entrance, because in older times, it was the position most vulnerable to enemy attacks. It is given to superiors, persons with higher status and more experience, older persons, or guests. 

What does Shimoza mean?

It is the  opposite of kamiza: the lower seat. Shimoza (下座) is the closest seat to the door or the least comfortable one. Usually the subordinates or the youngsters sit in these seats.

Where can they be applied?

Basically you can do it in any situation where there is a group: receptions rooms, in the meeting room, in interviews, meetings with clients, or even in the elevator or in the taxi!

Let’s analyze the next situation!

We have four people in a meeting room. The seat farthest from the door is the highest (Kamiza), so it will be assigned to the person with the highest position in the group. On the other hand, the seat closest to the door is the lowest (Shimoza). In this situation, the person with the number 1 corresponds to the Kamiza, the second in importance will be number 2, followed by 3. Finally, the seat corresponding to the shimoza is number 4.

Old traditions that still persist

“So, do you know what is Kamiza?”. That was the question a co-worker asked me when a client came into the office. And of course I replied with silence, followed by a “I don’t”. In all my time studying Japanese, I had never heard that word, let alone its meaning. 
When it was explained to me and I researched about it, my first thought was that it is curious how such an “old” term and practice is still in use today.  The second thing is that in my country the place of seatings are not taken into account (at leaset not as much as Japan). Of course, enemies does not come and attack you from doors any more, it still remains an important cultural practice in Japanese business settings.