The Kamiza or "Seat of the Spirit"

A traditional dojo of the martial arts is much more than any sort of studio, gym or training hall. The Japanese characters for dojo reflect the idea of a "place for studying the way". The "way" as has been demonstrated to us by Hatsumi Soke and in essence the example of our honbu dojo in Japan is a place for self reflection, penance and personal refinement. The dojo is the place of the Shidoshi or a teacher of "the warrior ways of enlightenment". These are the concepts to be learned of living completely and the ultimate objective of perfect understanding. A dojo is unlike any other environment in all of nature.

The Kamiza or "spiritual seat" is the central focal point of the dojo and incorporates a number of necessary items. After a fashion addition personal or meaningful pieces can be added but the items noted here are the main stays of this powerful dojo talisman. First the Kamidana or shelf that holds the various items must be numerologicaly sound; the shelf must be three, six or nine feet long. It must be hung at a height using three inch increments as well for example 6'-3", 6'-6", 6'-9" and so on… any increment of three inches is "allowable". The Kamidana must also be positioned on the east wall of the dojo.

Next the Kamidana must have in its center a wooden housing that holds a "charged" calligraphy that has been blessed. This can vary depending on the dojo heads affinity for a specific personal direction, shrine connection or "objective". A small round mirror that represents the transitory and illusory nature of all things sits in front of the "spirit house". Sitting on each side of the spirit house are vases that hold greenery that represents man's eternal connection to nature and his place in it. On the front edge of the Kamidana are small candles that represent mans struggle to "return to the light". Those candles should number 3, 6 or nine - nine candles is the usual number said to reflect the nine schools of the Bujinkan Dojo. Above the Kamidana as one faces it is a picture or photograph of the current Soke Dr. Hatsumi and to the right the most recent past Soke Takamatsu Sensei. Directly below the kamidana and centered hangs a Shimenawa or "twisted rope" that signifies that the area has been blessed. Often small trays of rice and sake are placed on the Kamidana as well to represent an offering to the housed deities. These are the basic items.

Once the Kamiza has been completed the dojo and its kamiza are blessed in a ceremony known as a dojo Biraki. The Dojo Biraki ceremony utilizes the elements of offerings, smoke smudging, chanting and bell ringing.


The Dojo guide: the Kamiza and its meaning

In this part I would like to talk a little for the Kamiza (lit. Deity’s Seat), since, as we have seen, it comprises the spiritual center of the dojo. The Kamiza, like most things Japanese, seems to be alien to both Western society and thought. The reason to that are, potentially, some obvious spiritual difficulties to overcome, mainly due to its religious significance in Shinto religion. However similar features are certainly found in every religion.

The Kamiza or Kami Dana is found also in people’s homes; is considered as a way of connecting or maintaining ‘the spiritual connectedness’ in every day life. Of course, something similar, although to a lesser extent, happens in Western homes as well.

It would not be unrealistic to say that almost every dojo in Japan has a kamiza. Some are quite elaborate whilst others are simple. Shinto is a simple way, thus its Jinja or shrines, although elaborate in design, are not overly ornate in content. The dojo kamiza is a reflection of its life size counterpart.

The Kamiza houses the focal point of Shinto or more accurately the Shin Kyo (sacred object), which in the majority of cases, is the mirror or Kagami. It is worthy to notice that the Kagami (mirror), the Ken (sword) and the Hoseki (jewellery) comprise, according to Japanese mythology, the three tresors of Japan. The significance of Kagami (mirror) is very important. Its first reference may be found in the Nihon Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters). The main point for us to understand is that the mirror reflects ‘everything as it is’. It cuts through all thoughts and labels that have been placed upon us, by us and others, to show us as how we truly are. Equally, if not more importantly, it represents the ‘pure heart and mind of that which we call God’. In essence "you may fool yourself, but you cannot fool God".

Apart from the Shin Kyo other things, connected with human life are found in the Kamiza. On a lower shelf daily offering of rice, salt & water are placed. Salt is a natural purifier and should retain its natural energy, thus the kind of typical daily table salt is not used. Rice is the largest, naturally grown, food product in Japan, carrying people through the Autumn, Winter and Spring months. Rice represents strength and forms the central part of the Kanji for Ki. In many cases, rice was given as payment for work or service. A Samurai for example, received measurements called Koku depending upon his status, at the ending of each year. Water, a natural, powerful element is used not only to preserve life, but to purify it. Many Shinto ceremonies involve purification in cold water, called Misogi. Other foods and fruits are also offered seasonally.

The presence of greenery in the form of evergreen sprigs, called Sakaki, is common in the Kamiza. The Sakaki coming from nature reminds us that life is an on going process, always evolving, ever new. Pine is another acceptable form of green. The Sakaki is placed on the shelf, in bottles, below the main part of the altar which houses the Shin Kyo. Sakaki are sold in prepared bunches in Japan. Only the best are chosen and any dead leaves or parts are removed.

Another part of Kamiza regalia, would be in the form of weapon, especially in a budo dojo. Either a sword, a sacred gift from the Kami, or a spear, with which Izanagi O’Mikoto stirred the waters below the Floating Bridge of Heaven (the Milky Way), the droplets from which formed the islands of Japan. Or in some cases a bow and humming arrow. The bow (Floating Bridge) - the humming arrow dispelling negative energies.

Additionally in the Kamiza you may see carved wooden statues or effigies of the Deity patron of the dojo or the ryu.

A further important characteristic in Shinto are the Gohei or jagged strips of white paper. The Gohei, originally made of white silk, mark or show the entrances to sacred places or objects and may be found either placed on the Sakaki or on the straw rope (Shimenawa) marking the entrance to a Jinja.

It is obvious that Kamiza has a strong relationship with Shinto and as that may become the source of many misunderstandings; therefore its absence from dojo found in Western countries is quite understandable. However its presence in such a dojo, in a much simpler built, may remind us of the origin of our practiced art and become the link to tradition; after all "to understand the new, you must know and always remember the past".