Synopses & Reviews
The history of seppuku -- Japanese ritual suicide by cutting the stomach, sometimes referred to as hara-kiri -- spans a millennium, and came to be favored by samurai as an honorable form of death. Here, for the first time in English, is a book that charts the history of seppuku from ancient times to the twentieth century through a collection of swashbuckling tales from history and literature. Author Andrew Rankin takes us from the first recorded incident of seppuku, by the goddess Aomi in the eighth century, through the golden age of seppuku in the sixteenth century that includes the suicides of Shibata Katsuie, Sen no Riky? and Toyotomi Hidetsugu, up to the seppuku of General Nogi Maresuke in 1912.
Drawing on never-before-translated medieval war tales, samurai clan documents, and execution handbooks, Rankin also provides a fascinating look at the seppuku ritual itself, explaining the correct protocol and etiquette for seppuku, different stomach-cutting procedures, types of swords, attire, location, even what kinds of refreshment should be served at the seppuku ceremony. The book ends with a collection of quotations from authors and commentators down through the centuries, summing up both the Japanese attitude toward seppuku and foreigners' reactions:
As for when to die, make sure you are one step ahead of everyone else. Never pull back from the brink. But be aware that there are times when you should die, and times when you should not. Die at the right moment, and you will be a hero. Die at the wrong moment, and you will die like a dog. -- Izawa Nagahide, The Warrior's Code, 1725
We all thought, 'These guys are some kind of nutcakes.' -- Jim Verdolini, USS Randolph, describing Kamikaze attack of March 11, 1945
"A fascinating book -- well researched and extensively cited without being overly dry -- it's an excellent read for anyone intrigued by the subject or by Japanese history in general." --
This astonishing book charts the history and practice of ritual samurai suicide from ancient times until the 20th century through primary sources, both literary and historical, many of them never before translated into English. The author has worked from documents such as medieval war tales, records of the samurai domains, and execution handbooks. The book benefits from an extensive introduction, footnotes, and bibliography, but is written also to appeal to the general reader. It is divided into four basic sections: "History to 1600" looks at cases of ritual suicide taken from historical texts from the 8th to the 17th century. "The Seppuku Ritual" draws on previously untranslated seppuku manuals from the 18th and 19th centuries to explain the correct procedure and etiquette, as well as the different stomach-cutting procedures, types of swords, attire, location, and even the refreshments served at the seppuku ceremony. "History after 1600" focuses on famed cases up to and including the 20th century, and "Paradigms" offers a selection of short quotations from authors and commentators down the centuries that sum up Japanese and non-Japanese attitudes to seppuku.
"As for when to die, make sure you are one step ahead of everyone else. Never pull back from the brink. But be aware that there are times when you should die, and times when you should not. Die at the right moment and you will be a hero. Die at the wrong moment, and you will die like a dog." -- Izawa Nagahide, The Warrior's Code, 1725
About the Author
was educated at the universities of London (SOAS), Tokyo, and Cambridge, and lived in Japan for many years.