Home Podcasts Ichimon Japan What is seppuku? (The Basics of Samurai “Suicide”) | Ichimon Japan18

What is seppuku? (The Basics of Samurai “Suicide”) | Ichimon Japan18

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Today’s Question

On this episode of Ichimon Japan we ask: What is seppuku?

Topics Discussed

  • A breakdown of the word seppuku
  • A breakdown of the word hara-kiri
  • Whether “hara-kiri” is a term used only by foreigners
  • The glorification and beautification of seppuku
  • The history and origin of seppuku/belly cutting
  • The differences between the terms seppuku and hara-kiri, and which is more commonly used in Japan
  • The earliest known Japanese story involving belly cutting
  • Harasaki marsh
  • Minamoto no Tmetomo
  • The “Golden Age” of seppuku
  • Seppuku as a symbol of the elite
  • Who was allowed to commit sanctioned seppuku
  • The end of officially sanctioned seppuku
  • Whether seppuku should really be considered suicide
  • Why seppuku involves cutting open the belly rather than other body parts such as the wrists
  • The discrepancies found in seppuku manuals
  • The steps and rules of a formal Edo period seppuku ceremony
  • What a kaishakunin is
  • What dakikubi is
  • The usage of paper fans rather than swords during seppuku
  • Children committing seppuku
  • The seppuku of the famed 47 ronin
  • The places where formal seppuku ceremonies would be held and why seppuku would not normally be done at shrines
  • The different types of cuts used when belly cutting (jūmonji, ichimonji, hachimonji, sanmonji)
  • Oibara
  • How a retainer of Oda Nobunaga’s father guilt tripped Oda Nobunaga by commiting seppuku
  • The anime style “concealed belly cut”
  • Seppuku as murder
  • Seppuku caused by depression
  • The over-the-top nature of kabuki
  • Junshi
  • Seppuku as a way to preserve the honor and status of one’s family
  • And more!

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Sources, Links, Videos, Etc.

The vast majority of the information cited during this episode came from the book Seppuku: A History of Samurai Suicide by Andrew Rankin. It is a very well-researched, informative, and fun to read book that has a whole lot more information than what we were able to cover in this episode. If you would like to get a copy of the book for yourself, please consider using the Amazon affiliate link below. It won’t cost you anything extra and it will help support what we’re doing here at Japankyo.com.

You can also just use the link below to do your shopping on Amazon, while at the same time supporting Japankyo.

Here is a skit about seppuku by the Japanese band/comedy group The Drifters (ザ・ドリフターズ) that I found during research on seppuku. The skit pokes fun at all the formality and strict rules of a proper seppuku ceremony. It’s totally worth watching. However, it is all in Japanese and does not have English subtitles.

If you haven’t gotten your fill of disembowelment and are curious about the “intestines episode” that was mentioned during this episode, then check out episode two of Ichimon Japan.

Use the link below to check out the episode of Japan Station that was mentioned during the commercial break in this episode.

Japanese Vocabulary List

Most episodes feature at least one or two interesting Japanese words or phrases. Here’s some of the ones that came up on this episode. All information is from Jim Breen’s WWWJDIC.

  • Seppuku
    • 切腹 【せっぷく】 (n,vs) seppuku; harakiri; ritual suicide by disembowelment
  • Hara-kiri
    • 腹切り : 腹切り; 腹切 【はらきり】 (n,vs) (See 切腹) harakiri; seppuku; ritual suicide by disembowelment
  • Junshi
    • 殉死 【じゅんし】 (n,vs) following one’s master into the grave; committing suicide after one’s lord has died
  • Kaishakunin
    • 介錯人 【かいしゃくにん; かいしゃくじん】 (n) (1) (See 介錯・1) person who beheads somebody to end a seppuku; (2) assistant; helper

We Want Your Questions

Is there something about Japan that confuses you? Is there something about Japanese culture that you would like to learn more about? Is there something in Japanese history that you would like us to explain? We’re always looking for new questions about Japan to answer, so if you have one, please send it to ichimon@japankyo.com.

Special Thanks

Opening/Closing Theme: Produced by Apol (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Fiverr)

Ichimon Japan cover art: Produced by Erik R.

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Full Show Notes


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