How to sit

You think you know how to sit in a chair? You don't know how to sit in a chair. Your movements are sloppy and your posture is highly questionable. You are a poor sitter. But you can always improve yourself. Here are some instructions for sitting in a chair, from a 1931 "Textbook of girls' etiquette" (Joshi reihō kyōkasho, 女子禮法教科書) by Ogasawara Seimei (a mounted archery teacher!) and MURATA Shiga 村田志賀 (a teacher; possibly a.k.a. MURATA Shigako 村田志賀子, another library-catalogue entry for early-1930s etiquette textbooks). Assumption: You are approaching the chair from the right.

1. Stand to the right of the chair. No slouching.

2. Placing your hand on the back of the chair, take one step forward with your right leg. (Bonus lesson: The word for "chair back" is , 靠.)

3. Take one step diagonally forward with your left leg, placing it in front of the chair (where it will be once you are sitting).

4. Letting go of the chair back, bring your right leg forward so that you are standing up straight in front of the chair.

5. Placing both hands on your lap, sit down. Be sure to sit up straight.

To stand up, reverse the procedure. Hands must remain on your lap as you rise.

Do not at any time cut your hair into a bob, smoke a cigarette, or dance to corrupting Hawaiian musics.

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Leonardo Boiko:

I wonder if that Ogasawara yabusame is the same as the Ogasawara-ryū school of etiquette http://www.ogasawara-ryu.com/ (which, I understand, also does yabusame)? It appears there are some IP problems; from the second site:

> As the call for teachers of etiquette increased [during the Edo period], men describing themselves as "Ogasawara instructors". Appeared to meet of these "experts" had no genuine knowledge of Ogasawara manners. Instead, they concocted an exceedingly complicated "Ogasawara school" that was overly concerned with pomp and luxury, and worried itself with trifles.

In any case it seems the equation of the name “Ogasawara” with yabusame + etiquette runs deep.


Ogasawara got their real push in the early(ish) Muromachi, when they along with two other schools (I think one was called Ise? Ise-something? It's been a while), were dubbed Official Warrior Etiquette by the Ashikaga. Thereby codifying what had been a slow development of "us warriors are a different culture, and we do things differently here." (One of the three schools was originally Kyoto-based, however.)

If I recall correctly, the Ogasawara got their name from winning a yabusame competition in Kamakura. (Again, not absolutely sure.)

I think the nose-blowing rules were a later addition, however.


I realize that Japanese schools are considered a method for teaching social customs, but I never quite understood the reasons for teaching such basic things as sitting on a chair. Perhaps it is one of those "Western" things, it would be hard to believe that in 1931 children might have never seen a chair or sat on one, but I suppose it is possible.

On that note, I will offer an old video from my own website, it shows similar instructions for kids on how to sit on a Western toilet. Presumably even today (or perhaps in 2005 when this video was made) in rural areas especially, there are kindergartners entering school who have never used a Western toilet.



Not really a Japanese thing. If you google "how to sit in a chair" you'll get plenty of videos and long explanations, most of them even more anal than this one.


Yeah, I think the worry here was not that kids might try to wear the chair like a hat or something out of ignorance, but just that they would sit in a slovenly fashion. There are finishing schools and so on elsewhere too. Probably less closely linked to mounted archery, though.

Leo: It's a pity that one of them doesn't call itself "the true Ogasawara school" or something, because then you'd know right away that they were the fakes.

Leonardo Boiko:

There are a number of (martial arts) koryū which in fact name themselves shin– (真) something, “the true X style” (e.g. tenjin shin’yō-ryū, tenshin-shoden katori shintō-ryū). What is fun about this is that many others will use similar names with 新-shin “the new X school” (kashima-shinryū, shinkage-ryū), or 神-shin “the divine X school” (as in inspired by mystic revelation; or, linked to shintō practices) – all of them just sound like “shin”. The common description “shintō” appears variously as 神刀、新刀、神道 and so on.


This is the kind of stuff along with walking properly and how to get into cars without flashing your knickers that is called deportment.

It is still taught in finishing schools today.

Leonardo Boiko:

靠 is /so/ going into my anki deck.


Yes, but which were the *real* Ghostbusters?


There is a funny photograph of my wife's great-grandmother's house in Mie prefecture. The great-grandmother was married to man much older than her (in fact, his first wife was her older sister) and they lived in the United States for quite some time. In the 1930's they came back with the furniture they used in New York. However, Japanese guests still not used to sitting in a chair would hesitate when being asked to take a seat, so what they did to accommodate the more orthodox Japanese guests was to put the zabuton on the chairs. Naturally the zabuton were way too big and would slide off, so one side had to be scrunched up against the back of the chairs.

"Suwaru" apparently doesn't become "kakeru" overnight...

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