The Japanese have cool shit. Since I was a kid I’ve been into their food (udon, mochi, musubi) and cartoons (Akira and Crayon Shin-chan).
The Japanese have cool shit. Since I was a kid I’ve been into their food (udon, mochi, musubi) and cartoons (Akira and Crayon Shin-chan). When I learned of seppuku–to which my dad alerted me to while reading Shogun–my round little eyes grew wide.
Ever since, I’ve been fascinated with stomach-cutting, the ancient Japanese one-uppance on whatever the fuck used to be the most painful way to kill yourself. I assume you’re aware of this gutsy suicide, but how about we spring for a refresher?
Sick, right? Apparently, if you were a samurai and you fucked up and dishonored yourself, you could commit seppuku to show what you’re really made of, but you had to ask the powers that be permission first.
“Akashi Gidayu and Tiger” by Yoshitoshi
According to Japanese beliefs of the day, a person’s abdomen is his soul’s locker. This is a painting of a general who, after losing a crucial battle, decided it was time to spill his tummy onto the floor.
Here’s what modern day stomach-cutlery, or tanto, looks like.
Something I never knew was that Seppuku usually wasn’t a solitary endeavor. In the field after battle, if a samurai had been dishonored or committed cowardice in combat, he could pull out a knife and open his jugular to redeem himself. But if the act was to be planned out at a temple (never a Shinto one) or in his home garden, the Seppuku-er would usually lay down grass mats before calling over a couple friends. Because a person would probably take hours to die by mere disembowelment, another guy was there to swing a fancy, curved sword. The Samurai would do this without flinching, yet at the first sign of “needless” suffering after the stomach-cutter had sufficiently let his guts, the sword-bearer (kaishaku) would slice through the Samurai’s neck, leaving the head connected by the smallest bit of flesh. (How exactly did a person practice such precise head-severing?) The other dude just stands there as a witness like, “Yes, this was legitimately gruesome. Sake bombs all around!”
But what exactly is the cutting technique? Is it a precise, Zorro-esque “z” or a haphazard, stab-where-stab-fall method? Here’s the entire process according to someone who dedicated a web page to this shit:
The soon-to-be-dead samurai dressed out in a nice, white kimono to symbolize purity. Before him would be a wooden tray with crafted for this specific occasion placed upon which were a sheaf of washi paper, ink, a cup of sake, and his short tanto knife. To start the ceremony, he would drink the sake, preferably in two gulps. One gulp was considered gauche, and three was considered to be miserly. Two gulps showed the correct combination of contemplation and determination. Next, the samurai would take the paper and ink and compose a fitting poem. After composing the poem, he would then precede to the main event.
The samurai slipped down his upper kimono to his girdle, carefully put his sleeves under his knees in order to die and fell forward, a standard way of samurai to die, which he remained naked to the girdle. He took the dirk that lay before him with a steady hand. Waited a few seconds to collect his thoughts, he stabbed himself deeply below the waist on the left hand side. He drew the dirk slowly across to the right. As the dirk reached the right side he gave a slight cut upward and then leant forward stretching out his head. Once an expression of pain crossed his face, the kaishaku, who had been keenly watching the whole process, sprang to his legs and poised his sword in the air for a second, cut off the head from the body quickly and smoothly. During a dead silence the kaishaku, having wiped his sword, bowed solemnly to the witnesses, and the dirk was removed as a proof of the death of the samurai.
Jesus. I could have spent ten minutes rephrasing that, but what’s the point when it’s written in such vivid ESL…
…or filmed so Seppuku-sploitively in this hilarious and violent sequence! This guy rips out his own intestines to strangle the other guy. Seems counter-intuitive, but what a crowning way to say fuck you.
It’s from this movie called Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky, which was released in either 1991 or 1992 and is a cult film because it’s just so remarkably violent:
Okay, I’m done.