Big in Japan: Hara-kiri for dummies

Few traditional Japanese customs fascinate Westerners more than the practice of hara-kiri (?????????) or ritual suicide.

Literally translating as “belly-cutting,” hara-kiri is more formally known as seppuku (??????), and was a key part of the bushido (????) code that all Japanese samurai were sworn to uphold.

While suicide is considered a sin in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the samurai believed that hara-kiri was both an effective way of avoiding capture, preventing disgrace and/or attenuating shame.

Although it’s anything but pleasant, hara-kiri is brutally efficient as a samurai need only plunge their sword directly into their abdomen, and make a quick but deadly left to right cut.

If the condemned is particularly lucky, they have the luxury of appointing someone to be their kaishakunin (??????) or second, who proceeds to quickly dispatch the condemned with a quick thrust of the sword to the back of the neck.

Of course, there are literally hundreds of subtle rules, styles and nuances to hara-kiri that have evolved over the centuries.

But, for those of you without PhDs in Japanese history, I’ve complied a quick and easy ‘Hara-kiri for Dummies’ guide to help explain this fascinating practice!

Welcome to Hara-kiri for Dummies!

In order to make some sense of this time-honored but impossibly elaborate art, here is a step-by-step guide to ending your life with dignity.

1) Take a hot bath, dress in white robes and prepare your favorite meal.

2) Eat everything, and then place your tantō (短刀) or short sword on the empty plate.

3) Prepare for death by writing a death poem – a short but elegant haiku is preferred!

4) Appoint a trusted person to stand by your side and serve as your second.

5) Take your short sword, and plunge it deep into your abdomen in one motion.

6) Don’t scream, but rather accept the inevitably of your death with grace.

7) In one motion, make a long and straight cut from left to right – the direction is important!

8) Rather than writhing in pain, wait patiently for your second to confirm that the hara-kiri was performed successfully.

And, should you ever have the opportunity to serve as an appointed second, here is a step-by-step guide to ending the condemned’s life with dignity.

1) Before serving as someone’s second, be sure that you are an expert swordsman as the daki-kubi is not an easy cut to perform.

2) In one swift but precise motion, strike the back of the samurai’s neck with your katana, but do not decapitate them!

3) If the cut was performed correctly, the samurai will die instantaneously, but their head will still be attached to their neck by a slight band of flesh.

4) Perform chiburi (血振), or the process by which one removes the blood from their katana with a quick flick of the blade

5) Once you’ve ensured that your blade is clean (you don’t want it to rust!), place it back in your scabbard and bow silently to the departed.

Now that you’re all experts in Hara-kiri, have fun practicing this sacred Japanese art with all of your friends!

(I’m kidding – seriously.)

** All images were obtained from the Wikimedia Commons Project **