Hara-kiri practice: ritual suicide and a matter of honor for the samurai
Hara-kiri practice: ritual suicide and a matter of honor for the samurai
Japanese ritual suicide

Harakiri was the privilege of samurai, who were very proud that they could freely dispose of their own lives, emphasizing contempt for death with this terrible rite. Literally translated from Japanese, hara-kiri means "to cut the belly" (from "hara" - belly and "kiru" - to cut). But if you look deeper, the words “soul”, “intentions”, “secret thoughts” have the same spelling of the hieroglyph as the word “hara”. In our review, a story about one of the most incredible rituals.

Seppuku or hara-kiri is a form of Japanese ritual suicide. This practice was originally mandated by bushido, the samurai code of honor. Seppuku was used either voluntarily by samurai who wanted to die with honor and not fall into the hands of their enemies (and probably be tortured), or it was also a form of capital punishment for samurai who committed serious crimes or disgraced themselves in some way. The solemn ceremony was part of a more complex ritual, which was usually performed in front of spectators, and consisted of dipping a short blade (usually a tanto) into the abdominal cavity and cutting it across the abdomen.

An ancient scroll with a description of seppuku

The first recorded act of hara-kiri was committed by a Minamoto daimy named Yorimasa during the Battle of Uji in 1180. Seppuku eventually became a key part of bushido, the samurai warrior code; it was used by warriors to avoid falling into the hands of the enemy, to avoid shame, and to avoid possible torture. Samurai could also be ordered to do hara-kiri by their daimyo (feudal lords). The most common form of seppuku for men was cutting open the abdomen across with a short blade, after which his assistant cut off the suffering of the samurai by decapitation or dissection of the spine.

Samurai prepares for hara-kiri

It is worth noting that the main purpose of this act was to restore or protect his honor, therefore a warrior who committed such a suicide was never completely beheaded, but "only half." Those who did not belong to the samurai caste were not allowed to do hara-kiri. And the samurai could almost always carry out seppuku only with the permission of his master.

The samurai is about to perform seppuku

Sometimes the daimyo ordered hara-kiri to be performed as a guarantee of a peace agreement. This weakened the defeated clan, and its resistance actually ceased. The legendary collector of Japanese lands Toyotomi Hideyoshi used the suicide of the enemy in this way several times, and the most dramatic of them actually ended the large daimyo dynasty. When the ruling Hojo clan was defeated at the Battle of Odawara in 1590, Hideyoshi insisted on the suicide of the Hojo Ujimasa daimy and the exile of his son Hojo Ujinao. This ritual suicide ended the most powerful daimyo family in eastern Japan.

Tanto that was prepared for seppuku

Until this practice became more standardized in the 17th century, the seppuku ritual was less formalized. For example, in the XII-XIII centuries, the warlord Minamoto no Yorimasa committed hara-kiri in a much more painful way. Then it was customary to settle accounts with life by immersing a tachi (long sword), wakizashi (short sword) or tanto (knife) into the intestines and then ripping open the stomach in a horizontal direction.In the absence of a kaisyaku (assistant), the samurai himself removed the blade from his belly and stabbed himself with it in the throat, or fell (from a standing position) onto the blade dug into the ground opposite his heart.

A soldier commits hara-kiri after Japan's surrender

During the Edo period (1600-1867), performing hara-kiri became an elaborate ritual. As a rule, it was performed in front of the audience (if it was a planned seppuku), and not on the battlefield. The samurai washed the body, dressed in white clothes and ate his favorite dishes. When he finished, he was given a knife and cloth. The warrior put the sword with the blade towards him, sat on this special fabric and prepared for death (usually at this time he wrote a poem about death).

Divine wind

At the same time, the assistant kaisyaku stood next to the samurai, who drank a cup of sake, opened his kimono, and took a tanto (knife) or wakizashi (short sword) in his hands, wrapped it with a blade with a piece of cloth so that it would not cut his hands and immerse it in his stomach, making a cut from left to right after that. After that, the kaisyaku decapitated the samurai, and he did this so that the head partially remained on the shoulders, and did not completely chop it off. Because of this condition and the accuracy required for her, the assistant had to be an experienced swordsman.

A samurai committing hara-kiri is a ritual suicide

Seppuku eventually evolved from battlefield suicide and a common practice in wartime into an elaborate court ritual. Assistant kaisyaku was not always a friend of the samurai. If a defeated warrior fought with dignity and well, then the enemy, who wanted to honor his courage, voluntarily became an assistant in the suicide of this warrior.

Seppuku in ritual clothes with assistants

During feudal times, there was a specialized form of seppuku known as kanshi ("death by understanding") in which people committed suicide in protest against their lord's decision. At the same time, the samurai made one deep horizontal incision in the abdomen, and then quickly bandaged the wound. The man then presented himself to his master with a speech in which he protested against the daimyo's actions. At the end of the speech, the samurai pulled the bandage off his mortal wound. This should not be confused with funchi (death by resentment), which was suicide in protest against government action.


Some samurai performed a much more painful form of seppuku known as "juumonji giri" ("cruciform cut"), in which no kaishaku was present, which could put a quick end to the samurai's suffering. In addition to the horizontal incision of the abdomen, the samurai also made a second and more painful vertical incision. A samurai performing jumonji giri had to endure his suffering stoically until he bleed out.

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