Joshua's post was extremely well done. I would like to add to his post this little tid bit. The kamiza, notice za at the end, is the same as the za in seiza. So the kamiza is the God's seat.
I agree: Thanks for an excellent post Josh. I was going to attempt an explanation myself, but you have done so far more eloquently and in more detail than I would have done. I too can only add a little.
Here are two easy characters: 上 (up) and 下 (down).
It can be confusing that the "kami
" in "kamiza
" doesn't actually mean spirit. The word just means "upper seat" (上 kami
"upper" and 座 za
"seat" -- as in seiza
正座 "correct-sitting") where the most important people sit. But who is the most important? The kami
(神 spirit/god) of course! So the kami
sits in the kamiza
. You bow in the direction of the upper seat. The most important people sit there (including, possibly, a kami
, if you believe in Shinto). It's the god's/spirit's seat if you want it to be. The opposite is the shimoza
(下座 lower seat -- notice the easy character for lower) where most of us regular folk sit.
I also agree with the views that to the average Japanese, there is not much religious significance in bowing to the kamiza-area. Whether you're bowing to the kami
sitting there (in the tokunoma
) or not, it seems to be most important as an act of reigi (etiquette) which is the thing that enables us all to train together sincerely and respectfully.