For many in the west studying Japanese martial arts the term “Shomen” will be known but not fully understood in its relevance.  This is further exacerbated by the use of sports halls and church halls where the ceremonial presence is missing and the hall vacant of the cultural significance always seen in Japan. 

“Shomen” is broken down and translated (Sho) as(Tada)shii in Kunyomi meaning right, correct, in front, true and (Men) face, side.  In all traditional dojo this is where the front wall is designated and is adorned with a miniature Shinto shrine (Kamidana) and often the national flag (Hata).  Many are also adorned with a picture or pictures of the Sensei’s Sensei as well as the dojo rules (Dojo-kun).  All of this combined makes the position and place of “Shomen” very sacred.  A general and simplistic interpretation is to bow to the front!

A famous Japanese saying is “Budo begins with Rei and ends with Rei.  This is important to understand as Rei is undertaken facing “Shomen” at the beginning and end of lessons.   Before training (Keiko), all bow to the front under the instruction of “Shomen ni rei” and this signifies respect, humility and the reverence in the study of Bujutsu.  The depth of bowing should be low and a sense of preparation and cleaning in the mind should ensue, clearing thoughts that disturb the balance needed.  Bowing is also repeated at the end of training, signifying again respect and humility.  Whether on your own or in a large class this action remains constant and the feeling consistent.

The use of “Shomen” in sports halls is difficult to make the cultural significance and importance always there is Japan.  However, this custom should always be followed and students will gradually understand the significance and importance.  For the Sensei, “Shomen” must be a designated place and wherever possible always thereon remain the same.

In Japan many traditional dojo strive to ensure ”Shomen” is facing east in the direction of where the sun rises.  This is consistent with the connection to spiritual and cultural roots to the meaning of Japan, “The Land of the Rising Sun”.

Some will say that there is no religious significance to bowing to “Shomen”, but where you have a “Kamidana”, this is a small Shinto shrine used for praying to the gods that you seek.  The essence of Rei is deep rooted and culturally of the utmost importance.                  

It is translated as correct etiquette and manners and forms the backbone of good teachers, good students and a good Dojo. The word Rei comes from the word “Reigi” meaning manners and the word “Tadashii” means correct.

When entering a Dojo you must always bow (Rei) and enter without shoes on. This must be understood and remembered especially in this day and age of using sports centres. The customs form part of the transition into a place of reverence and indicate just how strict the respect of Dojo is.

Students are usually expected to sit on their haunches (Seiza) in readiness for the Sensei to enter the dojo and begin the lesson. Classically the students would be in lines from right to left in order of rank. The Senior (Senpai) students or instructors would sit to the right ahead of the students facing at an angle to the Sensei who would sit in the middle of the dojo facing the front (Shōmen) and the shrine (Kami Dana). There are 3 commands that should be used at the beginning and end of every lesson and they are as follows:

  • Shōmen ni Rei
  • Sensei ni Rei
  • Otagai ni Rei

The essence of Bujutsu commences with Shomen ni Rei and this underpins its significance whether in a dojo in Japan or a sports hall in the west.  This signifies that the study and practice of Budo is not a sport.

  • “Kashima Jingu” in Japan is a shrine where a god of Budo called “Takemikazuchi no kami” has been worshipped for nearly 2,680 years
  • In Japan, sunlight has a power of purifying and south is the route of the sun where it provides the most light.  Therefore a person of importance is given the place to sit facing south.  The emperor sits in the position towards the south.  East is thought to be a fortunate place as the sun rises at the start the day.  For “Kamidama” it is not always possible to set it in the desired direction but it is important that “Ofuda” faces towards either south or east.