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The Honorable Death: Samurai and Seppuku in Feudal Japan

The Honorable Death: Samurai and Seppuku in Feudal Japan


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While martial suicide is a practice found in a lot of cultures, the act of seppuku, or ritual self-disembowelment, is peculiar to Japan. The earliest known acts of seppuku were the deaths of samurai Minamoto Tametomo and poet Minamoto Yorimasa in the latter part of the 12th century. Seppuku is known in the west as hara-kiri. However, the term seppuku is considered a more elegant usage.

As the human spirit was believed to reside in the stomach, slitting the stomach open was considered to be the most straightforward, and bravest, way to die. Therefore, this act was a privilege reserved for the samurai. Commoners were allowed to hang or drown themselves, and samurai women could slit their own throats, but only a male samurai was allowed to commit seppuku.

Onodera Junai's wife (one of the 47 ronin) preparing for jigai (female version of seppuku) to follow her husband in death : legs are bound as to maintain a decent posture in agony ; death is given by a tanto cut at the jugular vein. Kuniyoshi woodcut, Seichu gishin den series ("Story of truthful hearts"), 1848. ( Public Domain )

By committing seppuku , a samurai would be able to maintain or prevent the loss of honor for himself and his extended family. Therefore, a samurai who committed seppuku was often revered after his death. Defeated or dishonored samurai who chose to surrender rather than commit suicide often found themselves reviled by society.

The Ritual of Seppuku

By the Edo Period, the act of seppuku had become a fully developed ritual. Emphasis was placed on a strict adherence to the ceremony. In a typical seppuku, a large white cushion would be placed and witnesses would arrange themselves discreetly to one side. The samurai, wearing a white kimono, would kneel on the pillow in a formal style. Behind and to the left of the samurai knelt his kaishakunin (his “second” or assistant).

The seppuku ritual, circa 1900.

The duty of the kaishakunin was to prevent the samurai from experiencing prolonged suffering by cutting the samurai’s head off once he had slit his stomach. Contrary to popular belief, the ritual of seppuku for a samurai did not technically involve suicide, but inflicting fatal injury, leaving the kaishakunin to strike the death blow.

The kaishakunin needed to strike the samurai’s hard enough to sever the spine but also delicate enough to still leave the head attached. As severing the head completely dishonored both the samurai committing seppuku and the kaishakun, the role of “second” was given only to men who possessed superior control of their swords .

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A servant would place a wooden table before the samurai, which would contain a sake (rice wine) cup, a sheaf of washi (paper handmade from mulberry bark) and writing utensils, as well as the kozuka (disemboweling blade) - although the samurai would be allowed to use his own sword if he preferred. The sake cup was then filled from the left by an attendant. The samurai emptied the cup in two drinks of exactly two sips each, as one sip would show greed , and three or more sips would show hesitation. This would make a total of four sips (the character shi, which means “four”, also means “death”).

The Importance of the Death Poem

Before committing seppuku, a samurai would write a jisei (death poem) - which was considered important as a person facing imminent death was believed to have special insight into the nature of death and the value of life. The poem should be graceful and natural, usually in the theme of transient emotions. Mentioning the samurai’s impending death in the poem would be considered poor form and uncouth.

This was also important for the samurai as the poem would serve as a written glimpse into his nobility of character and how he wished to be remembered after his death. Asano Naganori, for example, whose seppuku precipitated the famous incident of the “ forty-seven ronin ”, is said to have written a particularly poor death poem, possibly because he implied the impending end to his life, thereby showing his immaturity and lack of character.

Asano Naganori (September 28, 1667–April 21,1701)

Completing the Death Ritual of Seppuku

According to tradition, when he felt ready, the samurai would loosen the folds of his kimono, exposing his stomach. He would then lift the knife with one hand and unsheathe it with the other, setting the sheathe to one side. After mentally preparing himself, he would drive the knife into the left side of his stomach, then draw it across to the right. He would then turn the blade in his wound and bring it upward.

Most samurai did not have to endure this last agony, as the kaishakunin would sever the neck at the first sign of pain. The cut in seppuku carried out to its finish was known as the jumonji (crosswise cut), and to perform it in its entirety was considered a particularly impressive seppuku.

A samurai must keep his composure even on the brink of death, showing strength and full control of his mind and body in his last moments. Any previous reputation of a samurai would be meaningless if he were to die in an unseemly manner. However, although a calm and composed state was ideal for the samurai committing this act, the eighteenth century book Hagakure and other Edo works relate stories of samurai losing their composure just before committing seppuku, and in some cases they had to be forcibly decapitated.

Different Reasons for a Samurai to Commit Suicide

Of course, there were circumstances where there was not enough time for the samurai to undergo the whole ritual of seppuku. Therefore, acts such as cutting his own throat, throwing himself from a running horse with a sword in his mouth, or throwing himself off cliffs were also allowed.

There were a few reasons for a samurai’s suicide. The first is Junshi, an act of suicide by following one's lord in death, which was common in the days of open samurai warfare. With the final confrontation of the Gempei War imminent and all hope lost, general Taira Tomomori resolved to end his life.

He summoned his foster brother, who then assisted Tomomori into a second suit of armor and donned another himself. Hand in hand, they jumped into the sea. Seeing this, at least 20 samurai then put on their heavy armor, bore weighty objects on their backs to make sure they would sink, took one another by the hand, and jumped, determined not to stay behind after their master was gone.

Funshi is an act of suicide to express one’s indignation at a situation. A well-known occurrence was in 1970, when the novelist Mishima Yukio disemboweled himself in protest against what he believed was the loss of traditional values in his country. However, as the act of seppuku was abolished in 1873, his suicide was mostly seen as anachronistic and something of a national embarrassment.

General Akashi Gidayu preparing to commit Seppuku after losing a battle for his master in 1582. He had just written his death poem, which is also visible in the upper right corner.

Kanshi is an act of suicide due to remonstration. A samurai would commit suicide to state his case or make his point to a lord when all other forms of persuasion had proven ineffective. This was done by Hirate Nakatsukasa Kiyohide in 1553. He committed suicide to make his master Oda Nobunaga change his ways.

Nobunaga’s behavior as a young man was said to be disgraceful. Hirate wrote a letter urging Nobunaga to change his ways and then committed Kanshi. His death is said to have had a dramatic effect on Nobunaga. He did mend his ways, and built the Seisyu-ji in Owari to honor Hirate.

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Finally, Sokotsu-shi is an act of suicide as a means for an offending samurai to make amends for his transgression. An example of a transgression is striking his fellow retainer with a sword in anger, which was punishable by death, and often the option of suicide was given. A samurai would also commit suicide due to his failure in his duty of protecting his lord from being killed in battle, or by an assassin.

A scene of seppuku.


What is Seppuku?

Often called “hara-kiri” in the West, “seppuku” is a form of ritual suicide that originated with Japan’s ancient samurai warrior class. The grisly act typically involved stabbing oneself in the belly with a short sword, slicing open the stomach and then turning the blade upwards to ensure a fatal wound. Some practitioners of seppuku allowed themselves to die slowly, but they usually enlisted the help of a “kaishakunin,” or second, who would lop off their head with a katana as soon as they made their initial cut. The entire process was accompanied by great ceremony. Among other rituals, the doomed individual often drank sake and composed a short �th poem” before taking up the blade.

Seppuku first developed in the 12th century as a means for samurai to achieve an honorable death. Swordsmen performed the ritual to avoid capture following battlefield defeats, but it also functioned as a means of protest and a way of expressing grief over the death of a revered leader. Beginning in the 1400s, seppuku evolved into a common form of capital punishment for samurai who had committed crimes. In each case, it was considered an act of extreme bravery and self-sacrifice that embodied Bushido, the ancient warrior code of the samurai. There was even a female version of seppuku called “jigai,” which involved cutting the throat using a special knife known as a “tanto.”

Seppuku fell out of favor with the decline of the samurai in the late-19th century, but the practice didn’t disappear entirely. Japanese General Nogi Maresuke disemboweled himself in 1912 out of loyalty to the deceased Meiji Emperor, and many troops later chose the sword over surrender during World War II. Perhaps the most famous case in recent history concerns Yukio Mishima, a renowned novelist and Nobel Prize nominee who committed ritual seppuku in 1970 after leading a failed coup against the Japanese government.


Seppuku – Honorable Suicide

A staged version of the Japanese ritual suicide known as Seppuku or Hara-Kiri, circa 1885. The warrior in white plunges a knife into his belly, while his second stands behind him, ready to perform the decapitation. (Photo by Sean Sexton/Getty Images)

As an anime fan, one thing that I have grown to love and appreciate is the diversity and uniqueness of both modern and traditional Japanese culture. One practice that does stand out to me is the practice of the honorable death known as Seppuku. Seppuku, death by self-disembowelment, became a ritualized and institutionalized form of suicide among the Samurai in Feudal Japan and it was seen has a form of honor and courage reserved for the Samurai, the traditional Japanese military. I was interested in learning a little bit more about this practice especially with our recent class discussions of what constitutes a “good” death or a “bad” death.

The deaths of Minamoto Yorimasa, a poet, and Minamoto Tametono, a samurai, describes the earliest known acts of Seppuku. Seppuku, which describes a process of slicing the stomach open, was considered the most courageous, straightforward and bravest way to die because the stomach was considered to be where the human spirit resided. In these practices, witnesses would sit discreetly to the side while the samurai, dressed in white, would kneel on large white cushion. The Samurai would then inflict the fatal injury to his stomach and his Kaishakuin, second in command or assistant, would make sure the Samurai did not experience prolonged suffering and ensured a honorable death.

Seppuku’s adoration and inspiration in Japanese culture has remained even today and can be seen depicted in movies, plays, novels, anime and more. During WWII, in the Pacific Islands, American soldiers witness Japanese militia committing this ritual right before their very eyes. After losing the war, some men and women performed the ritual in order to serve as an apology to the Emperor of Japan. But for people who are not Japanese the practice has been held with horrid fascination.I think this is because each individual has their own qualms about the topic of death and even more so suicide. So for me, it is interesting to see how understanding death is highly influenced by the culture, the society and the time and how they all play a major role in determining what constitutes a “good” or “bad” death.

Fusé, Toyomasa. “Suicide and culture in Japan: A study of seppuku as an institutionalized form of suicide.” Social Psychiatry 15.2 (1980): 57-63.


Seppuku

The practice of “seppuku” was an extremely important ideology in ancient Japan. Essentially ritual sacrifice, seppuku was carried out by a samurai by stabbing, and gutting, oneself with a short sword. Developed in the 12th century, the practice had multiple uses. One of the times seppuku was carried out were when a samurai dishonored their master. Seppuku was seen as a way to get that honor back. Another common use of the ritual sacrifice was during a loss in the battlefield if things are looking bleak for one side, the samurai would usually kill themselves as to avoid capture from the enemy.

By the start of the Edo period (period under control by the Tokugawa shogunate), seppuku was widely practiced and a routine for the ritual was developed. Typically, a servant would place sake (rice wine) in front of the samurai. They were expected to drink it in four sips, as to not be greedy and not show hesitation. They would then write a death poem to reflect on their life and to remember their life by. Then the samurai would stab themselves, drawing the sword horizontally across their body, ending with a twist to prove fatal. Commonly, to prevent a long death, a person would be standing by with a sword called kaishakunin to deliver the final blow. It was expected that that sword breaks the spine, but not completely sever the head.


Why Did Japanese People Stop Performing Seppuku?

Seppuku, a highly ritualized form of suicide that involved cutting one’s own stomach, was once part of the bushido samurai code, and considered an honorable way to die and, until the 20th century, was quite common. So what happened? Why did this practice die out?

Now, this is not to say that suicide is not still a relatively common practice in Japan, nor that some people don’t attach rituals to their suicide. But, while martial suicide is a practice found in numerous cultures, the act of ritual self-disembowlment is peculiar to Japan. However, after World War II, the act of seppuku has become so rare as to be shocking. The seppuku of famed author Yukio Mishima in 1970 was seen as anachronistic and something of a national embarrassment, and judoka Isao Inokuma’s 2001 death by seppuku was an anomaly. But in the 19th century, seppuku was not only a relatively common practice, it was a much-desired death among members of the samurai class.

The End of Judiciary Seppuku

For two centuries, Japan existed in relative isolation. It was forbidden for Japanese citizens to leave the country, and trade with the outside world was limited to Chinese and Dutch ships, which were permitted to enter Nagasaki harbor. But in the mid-19th century, all that changed when Americans and Russians invaded Japan, taking trading rights by force. What resulted was a period of major social upheaval for Japan.

Many members of the samurai class resented the government reforms that came with reopening the ports and the appearance of foreigners on their shores. The imperial household had long held a largely symbolic position in Japan, but with the appearance of these foreigners came a kind of cultural fundamentalism, with many Japanese recommitting to the Emperor against the Japanese government. It was also a period that saw a number of killings of foreigners and those who made treaties with foreigners by members of the samurai class. Some of these samurai (who, in order to avoid bringing punishment down on their lords, would sometimes renounce their lords and become rōnin) would commit voluntary seppuku following these killings. Others were arrested and, if they were fortunate, permitted to commit obligatory seppuku as a judiciary punishment.

Matters were not helped by the Emperor Kōmei, who in 1863 issued an order to “expel all barbarians.” While the government was passing reforms to modernize Japan, many samurai took this as moral permission to kill foreigners. Westerners who made the mistake of pushing their ways through samurai processions (something considered extraordinarily rude) or violated Japanese laws, might find themselves on the wrong end of a samurai’s blade.

It was during this period that the Western fascination with seppuku (known by the somewhat more lurid term “hara-kiri” by Western writers). British diplomats Ernest Satow and Algernon Mitford witnessed incidents of judiciary seppuku and published detailed accounts of what they saw back home. Far from believing seppuku to be a barbaric practice, these writers stressed the nobility (and impressively quiet decorum) with which the condemned conducted themselves, and deemed it an honorable act of chivalry.

But things changed with the 1868 Incident at Sakai. Sakai is a costal town, which at that time was still closed off to foreigners, but in March of 1868, thirteen French sailors rowed to shore. There is some disagreement about what they did while they were there some claimed that the sailors were a bit rowdy while eyewitnesses reported that they had only purchased some fruit. But the samurai of the Tosa clan took this small foreign invasion quite seriously, killing eleven of the unarmed sailors. Japan’s French consul, Léon Roches, insisted that the culprits be executed. Twenty samurai, mostly chosen by lots, were sentenced to death by obligatory seppuku.

Roches sent one of his captains, Bergasse du Petit-Thouars, to witness the execution, which they had anticipated would be by beheading. Much to Du Petit-Thouars’ surprise, the first samurai, Minoura Inokichi, marched out, shouted insults at him (saying, “You won’t want to eat meat after this, Frenchmen!”) and disemboweled himself. This was actually a particularly aggressive and grisly seppuku ceremony, lacking much of the reserved decorum that Satow and Mitford had written about. On top of that, the kaishaku, whose job it was to chop off the head of the seppuku practitioner once he had finished cutting his stomach, were particularly incompetent, hacking through the samurais’ necks rather than slicing them off with a single cut.

After eleven samurai had cut their stomachs, Du Petit-Thouars declared that the ceremony was over. Eleven samurai had died for the murders of eleven soldiers, and the captain decided that was sufficient. Believing he was performing an act of mercy, Du Petit-Thouars left over the objections of his Japanese hosts. This actually proved a grave mistake, with the official Japanese reports calling the Frenchman a coward. The Westerners were little kinder, with Satow shaking his head at Du Petit-Thouars’ actions, saying that he made it seem that the French were more interested in revenge than justice.

Other Western diplomats living in Japan learned something very important from this incident: judiciary seppuku was not a deterrent to killing Westerners. A glorious and honorable martyrdom was hardly a punishment to the more xenophobic samurai. The British consul general petitioned the government to outlaw judiciary seppuku, and by April 8th, an imperial decree had been handed down, saying that any samurai who killed a foreigner would “be stripped of their rank, and will meet with a suitable punishment.” Translation: even if a samurai is the one who kills a foreigner, judiciary seppuku would be out of his reach. That did, in fact, prove a deterrent to killing foreigners. There was one incident in 1870 when a battle between two rival samurai factions did result in a final judiciary seppuku, but otherwise, the practice was dead in the courts.

The Meiji Restoration

While judiciary seppuku may have ended with the imperial decree, martial seppuku continued as a dying cry of the samurai class. In 1868, a return to imperial rule under Emperor Meiji was announced. This was the proceeded by the resignation of Tokugawa Yoshinobu as shogun and the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate — which, in turn, initiated the decline of the samurai.

Many samurai who remained loyal to the shogunate were displeased with the new direction that the country was taking, and anti-imperial samurai rebellions raged in the following decade. Perhaps the most famous to Western readers is the Satsuma Rebellion, led by Saigō Takamori, whose final stand against the Meiji government provided the historical basis for The Last Samurai.

Takamori didn’t have the opportunity to commit seppuku himself he died from bullet wounds during the Battle of Shiroyama in 1877. But so certain were his supporters that he would take control of his own death that commemorative prints of his imagined seppuku appeared immediately, and it took years for people to understand how Takamori really died.

But there were other famous incidents of seppuku during this period. During an 1868 battle in Aizu during the Boshin War, the youngest brigade of soldiers was known as the Byakkotai the “White Tiger Force.” The brigade was supposed to consist of 16 and 17-year old sons of the Aizu samurai, but some of the boys were even younger. During the battle, 20 members of the squad looked over the castle town and believed that they saw a fire. Thinking that their force had been defeated and their lord was dead, the boys decided to commit suicide. One read a death poem, in accordance with the samurai tradition. They then proceeded to kill themselves and each other in a number of ways, some of them driving their blades into their stomachs. One boy, Iinuma Sadakichi, survived his wounds and learned the terrible truth: the smoke they had seen was from cannon and rifle fire. The castle was not on fire and the battle had not yet been lost. The boys’ tragic adherence to the samurai code immortalized them, however. When Italian dictator Benito Mussolini heard the story, he donated a column from Pompei to stand by the boys’ graves.

In 1876, the Meiji government put a major nail in the coffins of the samurai class and seppuku by banning the carrying of swords. Only commissioned army officers and certain security officials, it decreed, could carry swords. Supporters of the samurai were incensed. The sword was a symbol inherently tied to the samurai, and a ban on swords made anti-reformist outrage even stronger.

Kaya Harukata, a Shinto priest, and his former classmate Ōtagurō Tomō founded a new Shinto faction, called Keishin-tō, the Party of Divine Reverence. It became more commonly known, however, as Kumamoto Shinpūren, the Kumamoto League of the Divine Wind. Harukata and Tomō recruited the sons of samurai families and students from the Shinto schools, many of them teenagers. Others were men outraged by what they saw as the decline of Japanese culture. In the end, the force was less than 200 men strong, but they decided to attack Kumamoto, where an Imperial Japanese Army was stationed. It was 173 samurai against some 2000 armed troops. And, to make the odds even worse, the Shinpūren fought only with swords, a symbol of their commitment to the samurai way of life.

Although the samurai made an impressive showing against the superior manpower and firepower of the Imperial Army force, they were eventually beaten back. A few dozen made it back to their shrine, where they decided to disband and say their farewells to the living world.

The suicides went on for days, with the defeated fighters disemboweling themselves to avoid capture. Some performed seppuku while on the run from the army and police. Others made it to their homes, where they were able to speak with their family members before slicing their bellies. Still others went to relatives, friends, and temples to find a venue for their suicide. All told, 87 of the rebels died by suicide. The tale of the Shinpūren Rebellion would inspire other anti-reformists, but samurai culture eventually lost out the Meiji government was victorious and the emperor remained in power until his death in 1912.

Modernization, it seemed, had killed seppuku.

Seppuku in the 20th Century

Thirty-five years after the Shinpūren Rebellion, former Commander of the Imperial Third Army General Nogi Maresuke begged off the funeral of Emperor Meiji and was later found dead from two crossed wounds gut across his stomach. Nogi was himself a member of the samurai class, but during the early Meiji period, he took the side of the imperial government, crushing the very rebels that his friends and family were often sympathetic to. In fact, Nogi’s younger brother was killed fighting for the rebels during an insurrection in Hagi.

Nogi may have become suicidal after an incident involving the Satsuma Rebellion, during which he lost the regimental flag presented to him by Emperor Meiji. A fellow officer, Kodama Gentarō reported that, after the flag was lost, he discovered Nogi about to disembowel himself and ended up confiscating the man’s sword. After the emperor died in September 1912, Nogi put his affairs in order, rewriting his will and visiting his friends. Then, on the day of the funeral, he and his wife went into a large windowed room in their residence where Nogi stabbed his wife (this appears to have been consensual on her part) and then sliced his own abdomen.

The Japanese reaction to Nogi’s death speaks volumes about how the Japanese viewed seppuku at the time. This sort of death was anachronistic, and some commentators were actually quite outraged by it. Nogi had committed a violent act from Japan’s past while Japan was enjoying a more modern image in the world. It struck some as selfish, sullying the national character for his own samurai ego. The message was clear: seppuku was not an act that belonged in modern Japan.

Martial suicide would see a resurgence during World War II, including acts of seppuku. And when World War II found the Allies victorious, many officers decided to kill themselves rather than surrender. But in the wake of World War II, Japan underwent another great upheaval. The Allied forces occupied Japan and forced the country to abolish the Meiji Constitution in favor of the Constitution of Japan. The Emperor became a figurehead once again as Japan adopted a parliamentary-based government. And when, in 1970, Yukio Mishima barricaded himself in an office of the Eastern Command of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, delivered a speech demanding that power be returned to the emperor, and then disemboweled himself, the reaction from embarrassed Japanese commentators was non unlike the response to Nogi’s suicide: that seppuku was simply not an act that belonged to modern Japan.

If you struggle with suicidal thoughts please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.


Is seppuku a voluntary act?

There are actually 2 kinds of seppuku: voluntary or obligatory.

Voluntary seppuku was often committed to restore honour for a misdeed or a failure, or else to avoid capture by an invading army. Some samurai also chose to end their lives by seppuku after their daimyo died: a practice called oibara. Japanese people care about their image in society even after death. Disgraceful death in the hands of an enemy would be shameful “haji.”

Obligatory seppuku, was used as a means of capital punishment for disgraced samurai who had committed acts of treason or violent crimes. Obligatory seppuku could be requested by the victor of a conflict as a term of surrender and subsequent peace. In such cases, the leader(s) of the losing side were compelled to commit seppuku, thus removing all further political and military opposition to the victor. The type of forced seppuku against the will of the samurai is called tsumebara. Ordinary criminals’ heads were chopped without any ceremony, only the samurai were given the chance of cutting their own belly. Obligatory seppuku was prohibited in 1873.

In general, having the ability to do a seppuku was seen as an honor rather than a punishment. In the case of the “47 samurai” the harakiri was obligatory handed by the shogunate. During the obligatory harakiri, the blade without the “handle” wrapped with a piece of fabric or white paper is given to the samurai to make sure he does not fight back.

The scene of an obligatory harakiri


Seppuku : A History of Samurai Suicide

The history of seppuku -- Japanese ritual suicide by cutting the stomach, sometimes referred to as hara-kiri -- spans a millennium, and came to be favored by samurai as an honorable form of death. Here, for the first time in English, is a book that charts the history of seppuku from ancient times to the twentieth century through a collection of swashbuckling tales from history and literature. Author Andrew Rankin takes us from the first recorded incident of seppuku, by the goddess Aomi in the eighth century, through the "golden age" of seppuku in the sixteenth century that includes the suicides of Shibata Katsuie, Sen no Riky? and Toyotomi Hidetsugu, up to the seppuku of General Nogi Maresuke in 1912.

Drawing on never-before-translated medieval war tales, samurai clan documents, and execution handbooks, Rankin also provides a fascinating look at the seppuku ritual itself, explaining the correct protocol and etiquette for seppuku, different stomach-cutting procedures, types of swords, attire, location, even what kinds of refreshment should be served at the seppuku ceremony. The book ends with a collection of quotations from authors and commentators down through the centuries, summing up both the Japanese attitude toward seppuku and foreigners’ reactions:

"As for when to die, make sure you are one step ahead of everyone else. Never pull back from the brink. But be aware that there are times when you should die, and times when you should not. Die at the right moment, and you will be a hero. Die at the wrong moment, and you will die like a dog." -- Izawa Nagahide, The Warrior’s Code, 1725

"We all thought, ‘These guys are some kind of nutcakes.’" — Jim Verdolini, USS Randolph, describing "Kamikaze" attack of March 11, 1945


Seppuku's Purpose

Samurai committed seppuku for a number of reasons, in accordance with bushido, the samurai code of conduct. Motivations could include personal shame due to cowardice in battle, shame over a dishonest act, or loss of sponsorship from a daimyo. Often times samurai who were defeated but not killed in battle would be allowed to commit suicide in order to regain their honor. Seppuku was an important act not only for the reputation of the samurai himself but also for his entire family's honor and standing in society.

Sometimes, particularly during the Tokugawa shogunate, seppuku was used as a judicial punishment. Daimyo could order their samurai to commit suicide for real or perceived infractions. Likewise, the shogun could demand that a daimyo commits seppuku. It was considered far less shameful to commit seppuku than to be executed, the typical fate of convicts from further down the social hierarchy.

The most common form of seppuku was simply a single horizontal cut. Once the cut was made, the second would decapitate the suicide. A more painful version, called jumonji giri, involved both a horizontal and vertical cut. The performer of jumonji giri then waited stoically to bleed to death, rather than being dispatched by a second. It is one of the most excruciatingly painful ways to die.


Honorable Death

The Honorable Death move, also known simply as suicide, and called Self-Determination in Japan (自決 Jiketsu) is a recurrent special finisher move which debuted in Samurai Shodown IV: Amakusa’s Revenge, followed by Samurai Shodown V and Samurai Shodown V Special.

During any moment of a round, the player can perform this move (the character must be armed):

Then the character he is controlling will make a move with his weapon or a special move to kill himself certain characters uses nonviolent means, like show a posture of surrender or run away. Each character has its own way to commit suicide.

As can be expected, the suicide move means the Life Gauge will be totally depleted and the player forfeits the round. Because of this, use of Honorable Death is not convenient during a round three or round two if the opponent previously won round one. The best moment to perform this move is during round one.

In Samurai Shodown IV, Honorable Death provides a benefit to the player: at the next round (if any) the character will start in Rage Mode. For Samurai Shodown V, the player receives either only a portion or a full Rage Gauge, depending on the character. Conversely, in Samurai Shodown V Special the player receives no rage energy.


Seppuku

Seppuku, also called Hara-kiri (“belly-cutting”), the honorable method of taking one's own life practiced by men of the samurai class in feudal Japan. Seppuku (only outsiders reffered to it as "hari-kari") is a highly ritualized performance, as complicated as chado (a tea ceremony). The principle difference is that at the end of chado, one is merely nauseated from too much green tea, whilst at the end of seppuku, one is dead. Throughout history, many cultures of people from around the world have committed ritualistic suicide. And yet, none have done it quite like the ancient Japanese. The first thing to do is to recruit an assistant, a kaishkunin. Contrary to what is thought, almost all forms of seppuku do not technically involve suicide, but merely inflicting fatal injury upon oneself. The kaishakunin does the actual killing. “The way of ritual seppuku came up probably during the period of the civil wars in the 15th and 16th century.” (Seppuka,1) The art of seppuku mainly comes from a battlefield tactic used by many other clans or countries and is used to evade capture. Rather than being captured and revealing secrets or strategies, the defeated warrior in question would take a small to medium sized blade and thrust it into their lower abdomen. This sounds very hard to do, but that’s not the half of it. While the blade is inserted into the lower abdomen, the warrior would cut a “Z” shape up his stomach to insure no survival. When the circumstances allowed it, the ritual suicide was executed in a formal, procedural manner. If one is ordered to commit seppuku by the shogunal government, it will generally appoint its own kaishakunin (personal assistant). “Obligatory hara-kiri was abolished in 1868, but its voluntary form has persisted. It was.


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