Seppuku is a Japanese ritual where a samurai kills himself by cutting into his belly. After one had done so, a second person would cut off his head. It was thought that seppuku was an honorable way to die. Sometimes, it is called hara-kiri, which is translated from Japanese as belly-cutting.
Seppuku first developed in the 12th century as a means for samurai to achieve an honorable death. Swordsmen performed the ritual to avoid capture following battlefield defeats, but it also functioned as a means of protest and a way of expressing grief over the death of a revered leader. Beginning in the 1400s, seppuku evolved into a common form of capital punishment for samurai who had committed crimes. In each case, it was considered an act of extreme bravery and self-sacrifice that embodied Bushido, the ancient warrior code of the samurai. There was even a female version of seppuku called “jigai,” which involved cutting the throat using a special knife known as a “tanto.”
Seppuku was a key part of bushido, the honor code of the samurai warriors. It was used by warriors so that they would not fall into enemy hands and be shamed. It was possible also that a samurai received an order from his master to commit seppuku.
Because seppuku was an honorable act, a warrior who was caught by the enemy was sometimes given the choice between seppuku and being executed. If he chose seppuku, he could protect his honor. Samurai women had to ask for permission to commit seppuku.
This act could be performed either with a ritual, or quietly on the battlefield while other warriors fight the enemy.
The main weapon used was the samurai's knife called tantō or the short sword, called wakizashi. A samurai who wants to commit seppuku would take the weapon, open his kimono and stab the blade into his belly. He would make a deep cut from Right to left. An assistant of the warrior committing seppuku (called kaishakunin) would immediately cut off his head.
Seppuku fell out of favor with the decline of the samurai in the late-19th century, but the practice didn’t disappear entirely. Japanese General Nogi Maresuke disemboweled himself in 1912 out of loyalty to the deceased Meiji Emperor, and many troops later chose the sword over surrender during World War II. Perhaps the most famous case in recent history concerns Yukio Mishima, a renowned novelist and Nobel Prize nominee who committed ritual seppuku in 1970 after leading a failed coup against the Japanese government.