Seppuku and Harakiri - Unknown facts

You may already know that Seppuku or Harakiri is the Japanese art of committing suicide and dying with honor, preferred by samurai over execution. In this article, we go further, investigating every detail of this culture of suicide and some unknown facts.

Did you know that the most used blade in Seppuku was not a Katana? Did you know that women also had a similar ritual? Do you know all the Harakiri processes? Do you know the most famous people who committed such an act?

What does Seppuku and Harakiri mean?

seppuku is a Japanese suicide ritual, which is part of Samurai code of honor. The word seppuku [切腹] means "to cut the belly". Seppuku is used in extreme situations like failing to serve your master or losing in a war.

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In the West this act is better known as harakiri [腹切 or 腹切り] where samurai or warriors they committed suicide honorably, for love; honor and homeland. This act is used voluntarily as a choice to escape from the hands of enemies.

O Seppuku it is also a form of capital punishment for samurai who have committed serious crimes and other reasons for shame. In its most basic form, seppuku is an honorable, ritualistically committed suicide. 

The knife used for the ritual is called Tantō or Kozuka. This knife is much easier to handle than a katana or sword, allowing cuts to be made quickly, accurately and cleanly.

Seppuku and harakiri - unknown facts
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The complexity of a seppuku or harakiri

O Seppuku suitable was so complex that it required even a swordsman. Some rituals have become so complex that the act could take days to plan and hours to enact.

The cut in the intestine is not the blow of death, it is symbolic. The act requires a specific technique involving 3 movements.

Let's say you have a god's tolerance for pain and want to be especially honored in death. After the first three wounds, remove the knife, stab yourself in the stomach and go through the previous cuts to the sternum.

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In many cases, those who have committed harakiri have written poems as part of the ritual. So there are technical and literary aspects to seppuku. Is this one of the first reports of the suicide letters?

It turns out that, in addition to being tough warriors, samurai were an educated class, educated in religion and the written word, both closely linked to poetry in feudal Japan. Believe it or not, some samurai were really good poets.

Some samurai wrote haiku, others waka. The death poems provide proof that the samurai understood the true nature of his death. These poems were typically influenced by Buddhist views of death.

Seppuku was not an isolated thing. On the contrary, some were committed in a garden or in a sacred place, and had the presence of several spectators. If you are planning on seppuku, wash first and put on your best clothes.

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Seppuku and harakiri - unknown facts

What is the origin and history of Seppuku?

The first documented case of seppuku dates back to 1180. At that time, the Minamoto and Taira clans were at war, and the Taira decimated their enemy. The defeated clan leader, Minamoto no Yorimasa, saw his life crumbling around him.

Warrior and poet, he preferred suicide to live a life of failure. There are several versions of the story of his death - according to one, he leaned on a massive pillar in his home and opened his stomach.

Originally, seppuku was a military act, usually performed in battle or in the face of defeat. However, in the 1500s, it became a right only allowed to samurai and daimyo (feudal lords), being forbidden for some warriors.

Seppuku as an honorable alternative to execution by the samurai and daimyo class was, in theory, a right granted by the emperor. Those authorized to commit seppuku received an ornate ceremonial knife and used it to cut their bellies.

The decapitator returned the knife to the emperor as proof that the action was taken. Often committed as a result of dishonor or disloyalty to the emperor. In some cases, he himself served as a judge, jury and executioner.

Such forced seppuku required little evidence or testimony. This form of mandatory seppuku continued until 1868, when it was finally banned. Seppuku was also allowed as an alternative to execution at the hands of the military or its enemy.

Instead of being killed, you could follow the honorable path of choosing to end your own life. In such cases, you can retain some form of personal honor in death. This voluntary method of seppuku has never been banned until today.

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Seppuku and harakiri - unknown facts

How did the Seppuku ritual work?

Only for samurai (Suicide ceremony had a bath; sake; last poem and even coup de grace.)

The harakiri, or seppuku, begins with the Samurai preparing himself with a bath, which he believed to serve to purify the body and the soul. The warrior invited friends and relatives to witness his death and regain lost honor and was able to wear a special white costume to symbolize a righteous and virtuous character.

The place chosen for the ceremony could be inside a house, but it was usually in the open air, in a Buddhist garden. Seppuku just couldn't be done in the gardens of Shinto temples, sacred places that should not be desecrated by death.

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The samurai sat on his legs. He wrote the last poem on a wooden table and drank the last sake in two sips. Then he positioned the blade of the sword on the left side of the abdomen and struck himself.

After the first cut, the bravest brought the sword to the center of the body and raised it, aiming to reach the center of the abdomen. The Japanese believed that the soul was located there.

To self-strike, the warrior used a short sword (30 to 60 centimeters) called wakizashi (脇差し). He wielded it holding a white handkerchief. After death, destroy all the blades used in Seppuku.

Seppuku and harakiri - unknown facts
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Kaishakunin - Seppuku is not done alone

Seppuku is not something you can do on your own (although some will cut your own throat). Perhaps you have seen films, shows or comics in which a samurai, sitting in silence and solitude, stabs himself with a katana.

In reality, stabbing yourself in the stomach is only the first part of seppuku. You cut your abdomen to free your spirit from your body; after that, you are alive and in excruciating pain. Your assistant, a kaishakunin, beheads you.

O kaishakunin [介錯人] is a very skilled second samurai who accompanied the ceremony. He could be a friend of the suicide bomber or even an enemy, who, in recognition of his rival's bravery, offered to accompany his death.

The function of seppuku was to inflict a fatal and painful injury on the suicide. But, as death sometimes took hours, the kaishakunin he could give a coup de grace to end the life of the warrior, who had already proved his courage.

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The single blow to the neck needed to be accurate, keeping the head attached to the body by a piece of skin. If he cuts himself off, rolling on the floor, it could be considered a great lack of respect.

The alleged beheaders invited to participate in a seppuku they could only refuse on the grounds that their sword technique is inadequate. If at any time your assistant sees you hesitate, he can cut off your head.

Seppuku and harakiri - unknown facts

Jigai - Harakiri for women

Since Seppuku was a popular act among warriors, most women were left out. What few know is that the woman had her own Harakiri ritual and could commit honorable suicide on occasion.

If you were the wife of a samurai or a woman involved in war, were raped, had your husband killed, dishonored or lost your home, the woman could choose to end her life with a jigai, which in some cases was mandatory.

Committing jigai starts with tying the body in a specific pose with a rope, to avoid an ugly death (Japanese women were forced to be suitable and beautiful all the time).

Once attached, take a very sharp knife and cut the artery around your neck in one go. Jigai caused a very quick death, but was also very confused, creating a flood of blood.

Seppuku and harakiri - unknown facts

Seppuku and Bushido - Samurai Code of Honor

Seppuku is part of the samurai honor code, the Bushido (武士道). He was taken quite seriously by the samurai at the time. They gave their lives to their master, they themselves did not accept failures. We saw that even today the Japanese like to keep a perfect pace in things, and they don't like failures.

'For a samurai, honoring the name of his family and ancestors is said through death in battle or duel, however, not necessarily. And failing, before his master, was the greatest dishonor for the warrior, who at last had no choice but to commit suicide. This is only possible by the standards that govern the samurai warrior through bushido. '

If the samurai did something dishonorable and did not perform the Seppuku. He would become one Ronin (浪人), a samurai without a master, and he would not find any other master who would hire him.

Seppuku and harakiri - unknown facts

Japanese who committed seppuku

Kusunoki Masashige (from 1294 to 1336). - Committed seppuku after the emperor he served ignored his advice during a war, which resulted in the loss of the battle.

Ōishi Kuranosuke Yoshio + 46 ronin were sentenced to commit seppuku after avenging the death of Asano Naganori. Asano Naganori himself committed harakiri for his failed attempt to kill Kira Yoshinaka at Edo Castle.

General Akashi Gidayu committed harakiri by his master, after he lost a battle in 1582. Adopted son of Miyamoto Musashi committed harakiri because of your lord's death.

In 1970, the renowned novelist Yukio Mishima and his followers committed harakiri while defending a political revolution against the postwar constitution. Embarrassed by the mockery, he marched to the general's office and committed seppuku.

In the 19th century, warriors killed French people for being hostile during their arrival in Sakai. The Captain of the Ship demanded compensation, of these 11 warriors committed seppuku, the scene was so horrible that the captain was unable to attend.

Seppuku and harakiri - unknown facts

Jumonji Giri - No cuts on the head

Isn't Seppuku unpleasant enough for you? There is an alternative version called girum jumonji where there is no beheading. That is, you just cut your belly in the traditional way and bleed to death.

Admiral Takijiro Onishi, responsible for the kamikazi races in World War II, killed himself that way with Japan's surrender. He took 15 hours to die.

General Nogi also committed jumonji giri in 1912 and was so unconditional that he completely buttoned his military uniform over his wounds before waiting for the end.

How did Seppuko Influence Japan?

It is very common to see references to seppuku in anime and manga, I remember that in Love Hina, and other anime that have eluded me now. 

And how not to mention the film 47 Ronin, despite the unrealities, it was a tragic end, the seppuku, it was quite sad. I made an image highlighting some references in anime and film. See if they recognize each other.

Seppuku and harakiri - unknown facts

We can certainly say that the culture of suicide in Japan had a lot of influence from Seppuku or Harakiri. Even though the rate has dropped in the past 30 years, suicides in Japan have surpassed 20,000. Was Seppuku responsible?

Another great example is the kamikazes in World War II. We realized that both the seppuku regarding the honor of the samurai, influenced culturally Japan today.

Unfortunately thousands of Japanese people commit suicide for dishonorable reasons. However, they maintain their loyalty and take all work and life seriously, value things and try their best, to the point of being ashamed.

To end this article, we will leave some videos showing the Seppuku process. If you liked the article, share and leave your comments. Thank you and see you next time!