Japanese suicide ritual

Essay by madmanCollege, UndergraduateA+, March 2003

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Ritual Suicides

During feudal Japan (1192-1868) ritual suicides played an important part of the code of bushido and the discipline of the samurai warrior class. Seppuku is the Japanese formal name for ritual suicides and hara-kiri is the common language term.

Hara-kiri, which literally means, "stomach cutting", is a very painful method of self-termination. This was an almost unheard of practice until the emergence of the samurai as a warrior class in Japan. The Japanese, as most people, were more interested in living a good healthy life than a painful self-ritual death. But the introduction of Buddhism, with its theme of the transitory nature of life and the glory of death, that such a development became possible. When samurai actually performed seppuku it was clearly a demonstration of their honor, courage, loyalty, and moral character. The reasons for seppuku could have been ordered by their masters as punishment or chosen by themselves instead of a dishonorable death at the hands of an enemy.

When performing hara-kiri on the battlefield it was done with very little formal preparation, but on the other occasions when ordered by a feudal lord or the shogun, seppuku was a very formal ceremony, requiring certain etiquette, witnesses and considerable preparation. The great Leyasu Tokugawa, who founded the Japan's last great Shogunate dynasty in 1603, eventually issued and edict forbidding hara-kiri. Some lords chose not to follow the edict, but eventually it died out.

Honor for the samurai was more important than life and in many cases self-destruction was regarded not simply as right, but as the only course to take. Some other reasons a samurai would commit seppuku were to show contempt for an enemy, to protest against injustice, as a means to get their lord to reconsider an unwise...