There's a Right Way to Sit on Tatami

And Other Important Japanese Gestures

The Proper Way to Sit on Tatami

The Japanese have traditionally sat on tatami (a padded straw mat) at their homes. However, many homes today are completely Western style and don't have Japanese style rooms with tatami. Many young Japanese are no longer able to sit properly on tatami.

The proper way of sitting on tatami is called seiza. It is written with a two kanji characters "sei (correct;pr)" and "za (sitting)".

It is to bend the knees 180 degrees tuck your calves under your thighs and sit on your heels. This can be a difficult posture to maintain if you are not used to it and requires practice, preferably from early age. It is considered polite to sit seiza style on formal occasions.

Another, more relaxed way of sitting is cross-legged (agura). Starting with legs out straight and folding them in like triangles. This posture is usually for men. Women would usually go from the formal to an informal sitting posture by shifting their feet just off to the sid Iyokozuwari).

Though most Japanese do not concern themselves with it, it is proper to walk without stepping in the edge of the tatami.

The Right Way to Beckon in Japan

The Japanese beckon with a waving motion with the palm down and the hand flapping up and down at the wrist. Westerners may confuse this with a wave and not realize they are being beckoned.

Although this gesture (temaneki) is used by both men and women and all age groups, it is considered rude to beckon a superior this way.

Maneki-neko is a cat ornament that sits and has it's front paw raised as if it is calling for someone. It is believed to bring good luck, and displayed in restaurants or other business in which customer turnover is important.

How to Indicate Yourself ("Who, Me?")

The Japanese point to their noses with a forefinger to indicate themselves or to ask, "Who, me?"


"Banzai" literally means ten thousand years (of life). It is shouted in happy occasions while raising both arms. People shout "banzai" to express their happiness, to celebrate a victory, to hope for longevity and so on. It is commonly done together with the large group of people.

Some non-Japanese confuse "banzai" with a war cry. It is probably because the Japanese soldiers shouted "Tennouheika Banzai" when they were dying during World War II. In this context, they meant "Long live the Emperor" or "Salute the Emperor".