What Is Hara-kiri?
Ceremonial suicide, Seppuku or hara-kiri, was undertaken by members of the samurai (warrior) class in old Japan. Voluntary hara-kiri dated back to the 12th Century, and was committed to wipe out the dishonor of defeat in battle, as a protest at the behavior of a superior, and for similar reasons.
The word means “belly-cutting”. If carried out according to the rules, it was a slow and extremely painful means of suicide, meant to demonstrate the military virtues of great courage and extreme self-control.
Another version of hara-kiri was observed when a samurai was sentenced to be beheaded for a crime. To escape the shame of the common executioner, he was allowed to stab himself with a short sword. Immediately afterwards the sentenced samurai would be decapitated by a friend or relative waiting behind him.
Last known case of hara-kiri occurred on November 25, 1970, after the well-known Japanese author, Yukio Mishima, failed to incite a regiment of Japanese soldiers to join his “Association of Shields” and stage a coup d’état. Yukio Mishima and one of his followers committed public seppuku at the Japan Self-Defense Forces headquarters after an unsuccessful attempt to incite the armed forces to stage a coup d’état.
Mishima committed seppuku in the office of General Kanetoshi Mashita. His second, a 25-year-old named Masakatsu Morita, tried three times to ritually behead Mishima but failed; his head was finally severed by Hiroyasu Koga. Morita then attempted to commit seppuku himself. Although his own cuts were too shallow to be fatal, he gave the signal and he too was beheaded by Koga.
Seppuku as judicial punishment was abolished in 1873, shortly after the Meiji Restoration, but voluntary seppuku did not completely die out. Dozens of people are known to have committed seppuku since then, including some military men who committed suicide in 1895 as a protest against the return of a conquered territory to China; by General Nogi and his wife on the death of Emperor Meiji in 1912; and by numerous soldiers and civilians who chose to die rather than surrender at the end of World War II. This behavior had been widely praised by propaganda, which made a soldier captured in the Shanghai Incident (1932) return to the site of his capture to commit seppuku.