TIM BUNTING

KIWI YAMABUSHI

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Sitting on the ground

There’s a bit of an odd phenomena that I’ve noticed between Japan and New Zealand; sitting on the floor.

In Japanese elementary schools, each child has their own desk and chair and they often sit in rows usually with a pair.

In New Zealand primary schools, at least in my case, we had chairs and desks in groups of about four, but we also had a mat for all the children to sit on, on the floor.

What’s strange about this is, of course, that after intermediate school in New Zealand, at about the age of 12, we hardly ever sit on the ground ever again. On the other hand, Japanese people sit on the ground at home all the time, so they’re spending their whole lives used to sitting in such positions. Then when it comes to religious or other events, often they would be sitting on the ground, whereas in New Zealand, we only ever really sit on chairs.

This is of course a bit different when it comes to things like picnics, or sitting outside, but for the most part, it’s true. That the Japanese elementary school students sit at desks could be due to the allied occupation after the war, which they just didn’t change back from, but it’s interesting how both cultures get their kids to do the opposite of what happens when they grow up.

It’s hard to argue which is better, because although Japanese people are mostly quite flexible, they have a lot of back and shoulder issues, that could be due to sitting on the floor so much. Then again, New Zealanders, such as myself, aren’t as flexible, which has its disadvantages, such as when you want to pick up something from the floor. Then again, height could come into it.

The reason I noticed this, however, was that on Sunday night and last night I attended vigils for the recent terror attacks in Christchurch, where I was required to sit on the ground for at least part of it. I could tell from the people around me that they were not at all used to sitting on the ground, as I heard a lot of complaining and watched people struggle to stand up, but I didn’t really notice that in Japan.

As a Yamabushi, we do a lot of sitting down, either on our knees in Seiza, or Hiraza with our legs crossed as in meditation, so I am somewhat used to sitting down on the ground, although I could still be a lot more flexible.

Well, I noticed that sitting down on the ground was something that humans do in prayer a lot, and I felt a sort of connection between us. It may be obvious now that we have so much information about the cultures of the world, but I find it interesting how we all developed to worship in a similar way. This is probably due to succumbing to the power of whatever god we are worshipping, but I think it’s all related.

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Sakata City, Yamagata, Japan 

tim@timbunting.com

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