Informed Planet 18.09.18: Seppuku

My objection is to your definition of seppuku: “ritual decapitation”. I can assure you that this would not be accepted in any course of Japanese history and culture, and for a good reason: Seppuku did not always end with decapitation. Where was the kaishakunin in Korechika Anami’s suicide? There wasn’t one. He just lay on the floor and bled to death. It’s all described in William Craig’s The Fall of Japan. Around the same time, there were several other acts of seppuku, including at least one in front of the Imperial Palace. And although I am not aware of the details of each, I am pretty sure that, in some of them, there was no kaishakunin and no decapitation. Ditto throughout history. In the heat of the moment, so to speak, there was never any guarantee there would be someone on hand to deliver the coup de grace.


Seppuku or harakiri, it seems to me, is committed to defend honor, or maybe to take full responsibility for something.

Yes, you’re right. Generally, a person wasn’t condemned to it - except by himself. It was a means by which a person could regain his honor, take full responsibility for something, or apologize for failing to live up to expectations. It was for the last reason that some of the military brass - including Anami, who was War Minister - committed ritual suicide at the end of the Pacific War. In view of this, it doesn’t make sense to convert the act of seppuku into a symbolic gesture by fooling around with a fan or a stick. Doing so negates the purpose of the act, and is very un-Japanese! And as I have already stated, it also flies in the face of the literal meaning of the word.


You get to read the little bits you choose as do I.

The purpose of books like Daily Life in Japan at the Time of the Samurai is to show what the norm was - not what happened in times of war. We all know that atrocities are committed when restraints are lifted and passions are inflamed. On the subject of China: The Japanese military there was, to a large extent, a law unto itself. The Government in Tokyo had tenuous control at the best of times. And the Japanese people knew next to nothing about what was going on either there or in other theaters of operations. All they heard was propaganda - about how well Japan was doing, and about how grateful all the native peoples were, etc. I was able to study this propaganda while I was working at a Japanese newspaper. They still had all editions of the paper going right back to the 1930s.


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