In this illustration, a warrior prepares himself to perform seppuku, 1850.Wikimedia Commons
In this colorized photo (possibly a reenactment), a warrior performs seppuku. 1890.Wikimedia Commons
Here a samurai is shown in the process of committing seppuku, his death poem at his feet.
Circa 1880.Getty Images
This photo shows a disassembled antique tanto and its smaller dagger counterpart. British Museum/Wikimedia Commons
The blade would be thrust into the left side of the belly and pulled to the right with a sharp upward cut at the end.
This image from a kabuki play depicts a warrior committing seppuku as armed soldiers pursue him. 1856.Wikimedia Commons
Around 1700, a helping-hand was incorporated with the addition of a kaishakunin or "second." This person's job was to use a sword to lop off the head of the samurai to deliver a quick death after the samurai had committed seppuku and returned his dagger to its sheath. Wikimedia Commons
The distraught face of the kaishakunin above possibly shows his embarrassment in his less than ideal performance. Library of Congress
Known as kanshi, this version would see the samurai commit the act and then quickly bandage the wound. He would later appear before his lord and state his grievances before removing the bandage to expose the mortal wound.
It's believed that he carried out the act after suffering huge financial losses as CEO of his company in 2001. Mario De Biassi/Wikimedia Commons
Appearing on the balcony of the building, Mishima delivered a speech to 2,000 soldiers who surrounded it. "Japan's present politics are full of corruption," he said, closing his speech with the war cry of the old Japanese armed forces: "Tenno Banzai" ("long live the emperor"). He then disappeared into the building and committed seppuku.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images
One of these was writing his death poem, which was supposed to be eloquent and attest to their emotions, but not directly mention death.
In this illustration, General Akashi Gidayu prepares to commit seppuku after losing a battle for his master in 1582. His death poem is visible in the upper right corner. 1890. Wikimedia Commons
The participant would be properly groomed and bathed and dressed in white to symbolize purity.
Even the way in which the sake was consumed was of the utmost importance. The sake would be consumed in two drinks of two sips each. One sip would show greed, and three or more would show hesitation. The total of four sips, or shi, would symbolize death. Wikimedia Commons
The Japanese samurai tradition of seppuku has gone down in history as one of the grisliest and most painful ways to end one's life. The practice involved a highly ritualized process of essentially disemboweling oneself with a dagger and either bleeding out or having a peer finish the job by beheading.
The centuries-old practice was once common in Japan's military and it wasn't until World War II that it seemed to finally be put to rest. Like the traditions of many Old World cultures, the dying out of Seppuku was the result of Japan being pushed into the modern world during the 19th century.
Before then, Japan had been closed off from much of the Western world, only having contact with the Chinese and occasional Dutch trade ships. It wasn't until Europeans and Americans eventually forced their way into trading with Japan that its upheaval into modern society began to occur. During this time, the Japanese government began to reform and was met with pushback from the samurai class.
The killing of foreigners or those who did business with them by samurai wasn't all that uncommon. And in 1863, when Emperor Kōmei issued an order to "expel all barbarians" (Westerners), the samurai gladly did the expelling with their katanas.
This led to an incident in 1868 when samurai soldiers killed 11 unarmed French sailors who were in the coastal town of Sakai to trade. Seeking justice, Japan's French consul, Léon Roches, insisted that the samurai be executed.
Roches had assumed that the samurai would be executed by beheading or firing squad and sent one of his captains, Bergasse du Petit-Thouars, to witness the execution. What du Petit-Thouars saw instead was samurai marching out and performing seppuku one by one, followed by a particularly poor assist from their peers at beheading. The event was enough for him to stop the execution of the ordered 20 men at 11 suicides.
The incident drove the point home to Western diplomats in Japan that, for samurai, seppuku was not a deterrent against killing foreigners. An imperial decree was eventually handed down, declaring that samurai who killed foreigners would be stripped of their rank and punished accordingly. This meant that they would not be permitted the honor of ending their life with seppuku.
However, seppuku would see somewhat of a resurgence during World War II when Japanese officers would opt to kill themselves with their swords rather than surrender to Allied forces. But with the Allied forces taking control of Japan and forcing the country to adopt the Constitution of Japan over the Meiji Constitution, Japan went through another cultural upheaval.
The Emperor became only a figurehead and a parliamentary government was put in place, rendering seppuku a tradition that had no place in the Japan that emerged in the second half of the 20th century and on to the present day.
Next, check out more of Japan's Imperial era and be sure and dive deeper into the lost ways of the last samurai. Then, read up on R. Budd Dwyer, the American politician who killed himself in front of television cameras.