Tuesday, January 6, 2009

What is Hara-Kiri?

Ceremonial suicide, or harakiri 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 harakiri 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.

A case of hara-kiri occured on November 26, 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'etat.

When the soldiers ignored his appeal, Mishima entered a room at their military headquarters, together with four supporters, and in front of the commanding general, who had been tied to a chair, Mishima slit his own stomach in the Samurai hara-kiri fashion. He was then decapitated by his "Chief of Staff", Hissho Morita, in the traditional way. Morita himself then committed harakiri and was subsequently decapitated in turn by another of Mishima's supporters.

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