What is hari kari?

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Hari kari, also known as sepuku, is an ancient form of ritual suicide that defeated samurai, or those whose shame was 'too unbearable' would use to restore their honor in death. In sepuku, one would take a wakizashi (short sword) and dissembowel oneself. The less noise you made while doing this, the braver you were and therefore the more honorable, however this did not last long as not long after you had begun, a close friend, comrade, or enemy would put you out of your misery by cleaving your head from your shoulders in one swift blow of the katana (another Japanese sword). Even though in modern times the prospect of decapitating one of your friends or relatives sounds completely against normal 'friendly' behavior, being asked to asist your friend or enemies' escape from shame was considered a great honor, as was using this as a tool to escape. This is why the in the imperialistic wars that followed japan's modernisation post Admiral Perry's opening of it in 1853 to the west, the Japanese had no concept of the POW, as they believed that a combatant should either fight to the last breath, or if captured, die 'honorably' in ritual suicide, known as hari kari or sepuku. A good example of this ritual can be found in Tom Cruise's movie "the last samurai"

Note: The act of performing as one's second is known as kaishaku. Often times it would be performed with the katana of the Samurai commiting Hara kiri. It was considered disrespectful for the head to come completely off and thus a small connecting flap of skin was usually left. This is very difficult to do and was generally viewed as a bad omen should it not be performed correctly.  
The actual word is "hara kiri", Japanese for "stomach" and "cut" respectively. "Seppuku" is the Onyomi (Chinese origin) pronunciation of the same, but with the Chinese characters reversed ("Cut Stomach"). The most horrifyingly graphic description I read of this process was in James Clavell's "Shogun". Apparently two slices to one's own abdomen with one's sword, that which is within shall fall out into one's lap, and soon after one's head is sliced off by one's friend in order to end one's suffering. Sound's like a rough way to go...
Hara-kiri (often misheard and mis-spelt) is the Japanese term for ritual suicide and literally means "stomach cutting".

When you cut your stomach. :)
Ritualistic suicide practiced by Japanese Samurai by sitting on your own sword.
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