Seppuku (sometimes also referred to as hara-kiri) is a form of Japanese ritual suicide.
Throughout most of Japanese history, only samurai were allowed to commit seppuku. The first recorded seppuku was that of Minamoto no Yorimasa, a warrior and poet who committed suicide by slashing his stomach open with his sword after suffering defeat in battle.
During the medieval period, samurai committed seppuku for several reasons, most commonly to avoid being captured after suffering a defeat (in the manner of Minamoto no Yorimasa), as a penalty for shameful or criminal activity, or to expunge the shame of surviving a battle in which the samurai’s lord was killed.
Although many Westerners think of suicide as an “escape” from life, the practice of seppuku focused on honor rather than death. Seppuku permitted a samurai to maintain, regain, or prevent the loss of honor. For that reason, samurai who committed seppuku were revered, while defeated men who chose surrender instead of suicide often found themselves reviled.
During the seppuku ritual, the samurai stabbed himself in the stomach with a dagger or short sword and then made a horizontal cut across his own abdomen. (In some cases, the samurai then reached into his belly and removed his own entrails.)
As the ritual developed, a second samurai (called the kaishakunin) would sometimes stand behind the person committing seppuku and cut off the dying person’s head to end his suffering. In some cases, the decapitation came as soon as the person committing seppuku plunged the dagger into his belly, but the bravest samurai ordered the kaishakunin to wait until the dagger had completed the cut that opened the abdomen. A more painful death, but also a more honorable one.
Have you ever seen a film, or read a book, involving a samurai seppuku? What do you think about ritual suicide to purge dishonor?