What is a SHOMEN?
The top character of the kanji for shomen, sho, depicts a foot and with the center line representing travel in the right or proper direction. The bottom character, men, depicts a human head – with the outside box indicating the face, specifically. Together they represent facing the proper way. Literally, the front of the head.
In the dojo this means that the shomen is the proper side of the dojo and a place of respect.
The shomen can be any wall where there is no door. No matter where the dojo is – a gym, a room in your house, or even a location outside – there is always a focal point. This is the shomen.
It is at the shomen, the front side of the dojo, where the tokinoma (alcove) is placed. This is where important symbols are placed. Sometimes a kamidana is also present at the shomen. This is a shinto alter (shinto is the native religion of Japan.) However, as we are not Japanese and we have no religious affiliation, we have no kamidana.
Japanese tradition holds that places, and even certain objects, should be respected. This is the case for such a place as a dojo – and the shomen is the focal point of that respect. (We have similar ideas of respect as well, such as a court house or other important buildings.)
The items placed on the tokinoma at the shomen are unique to each art and each dojo. Sometimes a scroll is hung depicting the art or style of art.
We bow toward the shomen at the beginning and end of class to show our respect to the art, its history, and the contributions made by masters of the art – both past and present.