Seppuku, chest cutting, [1] was the act of ritual suicide. Seppuku was a means for samurai to atone for failure or dishonor. Successful completion of the ceremony would remove the stain of dishonor from a samurai's name, although it would happen posthumously.

Permission[edit | edit source]

Seppuku was not taken lightly and rarely occurred. Since samurai were servants to their lords, one needed permission to commit seppuku. To commit seppuku without permission - as an extreme denouncement of a dishonorable master's actions - was known as kanshi, and it did not absolve one of dishonor. Instead, it implied that the samurai could no longer stand to serve his lord for the shame he endured under their command.

Instrument[edit | edit source]

Seppuku with a wooden blade

Seppuku was performed with a wakizashi, the symbol of a samurai's honor. Normally the samurai's own wakizashi was used, but his superior might offer another instead. Being offered the clan's ancestral wakizashi was the ultimate gesture of forgiveness. [1] Being offered a wooden sword was the gravest insult, insinuating that the samurai was insincere in his request or too cowardly to successfully perform the ceremony. [2]

Ceremony[edit | edit source]

Purification[edit | edit source]

A samurai spent a day in a temple writing poems, haiku, and letters to beloved ones. At the end of the day he was bathed, and dressed in white robes prepared for the ritual. [1]

Ritual[edit | edit source]

Seppuku with kaishakunin

The samurai was fed his favorite meal, and when he was finished, his instrument was placed on his plate. Dressed ceremonially, with his sword placed in front of him and sometimes seated on special cloths, the warrior would prepare for death by writing a death poem. With his selected attendant (kaishakunin, his second) standing by, he would open his kimono, take up his knife or short sword—which the samurai held by the blade with a portion of cloth wrapped around so that it would not cut his hand and cause him to lose his grip—and plunge it into his abdomen, making a left-to-right cut. The kaishakunin would then perform kaishaku, a cut in which the warrior was decapitated. Because of the precision necessary for such a maneuver, the second was a skilled swordsman. The principal and the kaishakunin agreed in advance when the latter was to make his cut. Usually the cut would occur as soon as the dagger was plunged into the abdomen. The process became so highly ritualised that as soon as the samurai reached for his blade the kaishakunin would strike. [citation needed]

Cleaning family's shame[edit | edit source]

Seppuku was often offered as an alternative to the a more shameful public execution. To have the privilege to even take one's own life in quiet, ritualistic, dignity rather than let a public headsman do the deed, was an honor offered only to samurai. To refuse to commit seppuku when ordered (or after having the option offered), meant the samurai was unrepentant of his acts. Chances were, he would have his name stripped and become a ronin. In polite Rokugani society, to be forced to live with such dishonor was more vicious than any pain or death. [citation needed]

Seppuku for children[edit | edit source]

If a child was too young to kill himself in order to fulfill a daimyo's seppuku request, the parents had to kill their own children before they committed seppuku. [3] But some children (boys and girls) even 3 or 4 years old committed jigai instead of seppuku cutting the main veins  in  the neck or pushing the knife in to heart. [citation needed]

External Links[edit | edit source]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Roleplaying in the Emerald Empire, p. 28
  2. Roleplaying in the Emerald Empire, p. 39
  3. Winter Court: Kyuden Seppun, p. 52
  • Game Master's Guide, p. 69.
  • Legend of the Five Rings, Third Edition, pp. 31, 343.

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