Unlike my usual confident posts, this is more a cry for help. For months now I have been trying to achieve a clear understanding of how a kendojo should be laid out and the correct terminology to use to describe the component areas. I have asked a number of senior sensei and the AJKF but I am still far from a definitive answer.
Let me start by telling you what I believe I know: A dojo has a high side and a low side (kamiza and shimoza). Instructors and higher grades sit on the high side and students sit on the low side. Usually, but not always, both sides line up in ascending order, often starting with the lower grades on both sides nearest the door, so that the most senior student faces the most senior instructor. Some people refer to the end of the dojo where the highest grades are placed as kami no kami and the lower end of the dojo as shimo no shimo.
So far so good! But there are numerous exceptions to the rule. For example – in the Shudokan in Osaka (if my memory is still reliable), the entrance is in the centre, between kendo and judo areas. It is on this side where senior instructors sit, with the highest grade nearest to the door. In some other dojo instructors sit in pyramid structure with the senior grade in the centre and the next senior to his right and the next to his left and so on. In other dojo the students line up in reverse order of seniority to the teachers. Honoured guests and sometimes senior grades who are not classed as teachers in a particular dojo may sit along an end wall, (I have seen this arrangement at either end of the dojo).
In Japanese dojo there is often a Shinto shrine or altar against the kamiza wall. I have seen these in various positions, sometimes even in kami no kami.
The terminology too varies from place to place. Shomen-ni- rei is normally used as the instruction to bow to kamiza. This literally means bow to the front and the term shomen is used as a substitute for kamiza outside of Japan. The reason given is that kamiza has a religious connotation that may cause discomfort to members of monotheistic religions. On looking up kamiza in various dictionaries, including my Brinkley 1896 edition, the meaning is given as (as Joseki or Joza), which simply means higher seat.
So forgive me for this long winded declaration of ignorance. The answers I have received so far have been diluted with “but it depends on” or “case by case” or “it’s some kind of feng shui thing”.
If anyone can add any light to the topic, I would welcome your input.
PS. I just heard the sad news that Jaime Fennessy sensei of the Australian Kendo Remei passed away. A great bloke and an inspiration to kendoka around the World. He will be missed.