What Is A Dojo?

The word dojo means “Place of the way”
(道場) it is the term used for a place where martial arts are taught. In many places this is a room in a gymnasium or a community centre. The purpose of a dojo is to provide a place to learn either through normal classes or via seminars (called gashuku,合宿). 

A traditional dojo is building in its own right, in Japan it is sometimes in the grounds of a shrine, but regardless of this the areas of a dojo are the same . 

A dojos name traditionally is given by a senior instructor it often describes its location or a feature such as a river or a mountain often ending in kan (館 meaning place or hall).

The centre of the Dojo is called the Enbujo (演舞場, Demonstration Field) or Keikojo (稽古場 Practice Area), this area is usually covered in mats called tatami 畳. The Areas of the Dojo can be also related to the five elements of chinese philosophy. The centre is represented by Tsuchi (土  Earth) embodying the quality of honesty.

The front (Shomen 正面) is the area is called the Kamiza (Heaven Seat 上座), this is where the Sensei (teacher 先生) sits to begin and end a class.  It is also where honoured guests sit. The front/ North is represented by Mizo(水 Water) embodying the quality of Sagacity. 

The shomen may have a number of features, in Aikido there is a picture of the founder taking the central place. This is to show respect to the memory of the founder.

This is also often where the kami dana (神棚god shelf) is situated.

And the back of the dojo is the Shimoza (lower seat 下座) where the gakusei (students 学生) sit. The back/ South is represented by Hi (火 Fire) embodying the quality of Intellect. 

The rear is also where the Genkan (玄関) is usually situated. This is the entrance foyer in Japan it is often where outdoor shoes are left.

The Left side  of the dojo is the Shimono Seki (下関 lower Side) this is where the lower rank students sit. This is the west side of the dojo represented by the element Kin (金 Metal) representing rectitude. 

The Right side  of the dojo is the Jo Seki (上席 upper Seat) this is where the higher rank students sit. This is the east side of the dojo represented by the element Muko (木 Wood) representing clarity. 

Often a dojo will have a calligraphy Scroll on the wall with the kanji for aikido or the dojo name, this is called a kake jiku/ kake mono (掛け軸). A dojo may also have a name board listing the members and instructors this is called a nafuda kake (名札掛け).

Tokonoma (床の間), or simply toko (), is a built-in recessed space in a Japanese style room, in which items for artistic appreciation are displayed. In English, a tokonoma could be called an alcove.

The items usually displayed in a tokonoma are calligraphic or pictorial scrolls and an arrangement of flowers. Bonsai and okimono are also sometimes displayed there.

In some places this also contains the Kami Dana.

The kami dana is found at the front of the dojo often in an alcove, for traditional shrine dojos. and are miniature household altars provided to enshrine a Shinto kami. 

The kamidana is typically placed high on a wall and contains a wide variety of items related to Shinto-style ceremonies, the most prominent of which is the shintai  (神体, an object meant to house a chosen kami), thus giving it a physical form to allow worship.