On Seppuku, Katanas, and Samurai

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Yesterday, along with Akumi’s uncle Tadashi, we visited her grandmother at a rest home. She’s a spunky 90 year old woman and gives me great insight into where Akumi gets her rebellious nature from. We took her for a walk and I jumped onto a thin railing. Her reflex wasn’t to wave me down for my safety, it was to reach out as if to push me off and cause me to crack my skull. We made sure to push her wheelchair to the edge of the river as if to push her in. We all had a good laugh afterwards.

Akumi's Grandma

Katana\ Afterwards we walked over to the uncle’s house. Akumi refers to him as the “Harley Davidson” uncle as he rides a Harley and is in love with the Harley brand. He was wearing Harley jeans and a Harley cap. When we arrived at his place, he showed us his 200 year old Katana.

Katana \ The Katana in its case. Tadashi made the stand himself.

It’s a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. Every two weeks he cares for it with a strict regimen to ward off rust and keep its beauty. Should he require a sharpening (which probably won’t be required) it costs $100 per centimeter to sharpen properly. It’s a collector’s item worth over $8000 made by some guy named Hattori Hanzo (ok, the Hattori part isn’t true).

Collector's Item \ Tadashi shows us the engraving on the hilt and a matching monograph in a collector’s book.

Tadashi explained to us that Samurais went to great lengths to take care of their swords and a good way to get yourself killed back in the day was to carelessly handle or knock down a Samurai’s sword. That would invite a fight to the death. Only then did Tadashi let me handle the Katana and I took great care to show it the respect it deserved.

Me with Katana \ Displaying the ferocity and skill that would have made me a great samurai. Or samurai fodder.

Seppuku\ Tadashi has a sense of humor similar to my dad’s. He told us that when he’s unable to care for himself, he’d prefer to commit seppuku than waste away in a rest home. My dad always tells us that when he can’t wipe himself, drive him out the backwoods of Alaska and let him loose for the bears to find him.

When a samurai was dishonored, he would commit Seppuku in order to regain his honor. Today, dishonoring oneself is a sport displayed on reality television.

Sometimes this is referred to as Hara Kiri, though Tadashi tells us that Seppuku is the correct term. Hara Kiri and Seppuku are the same characters in Japanese, but they have two different ways to pronounce them.

The act of seppuku required the samurai to essentially dissect himself with a katana while another Samurai chopped his head off to finish the deed. The sword the other samurai used was specially made for this purpose as just any sword will not do. To test the sword (see, “test first” is not a new thing) they piled dead decapitated bodies one on top of the other, in what must’ve been a pleasant ritual, and then attempted to cut through as many as they could with one strike of the katana. Afterwards, the katana was carefully engraved to document the number of bodies it cut through. Thus a “three body” sword meant it cut through three bodies.

Tadashi showed us a picture of a sword with an etching of “Three Body Sword” on one side. On the other side it said “After re-engineering, Four Body Sword”. I want to know where they got all these bodies for testing. I’d hate to be the QA department for a seppuku katana.

In the next two pictures, Tadashi demonstrates Seppuku.

Seppuku demonstration step 1 \ Step 1, insert the blade here. Be sure to disinfect first.

\ Step 2, slash across here. Be sure to cut into the major organs. Doesn’t that feel nice?

For women who had been shamed, they would often kneel down to commit seppuku and were permitted to lean into the blade, bracing the hilt on the ground if they did not have the strength to cut themselves.

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54 responses

  1. Avatar for Dimitri Glazkov
    Dimitri Glazkov January 4th, 2005

    Crap, man! This is by far your coolest post. So, what's the difference between seppuki and harakiri?

  2. Avatar for Thomas Wagner
    Thomas Wagner January 5th, 2005

    Its almost as though I'm on vacation with you! Neat pictures and stories

  3. Avatar for Adam Kinney
    Adam Kinney January 6th, 2005

    Yes, very cool. I need to go back and catch up. I loved the "Hattori Hanzo" nod :)

  4. Avatar for haacked
    haacked January 6th, 2005

    Thanks for the kudos! There is no difference between Seppuku and Hara Kiri. They are the same characters in Japanese. Just so happens there are two ways to pronounce the characters "Seppuku" or "Hara Kiri". Seppuku is the correct term, but Hara Kiri is understood.

  5. Avatar for Dimitri Glazkov
    Dimitri Glazkov January 6th, 2005

    I see. Well, how about "Loli-Goths" and "Hello Kitties"? Did you see any of those cultural aberrations?

  6. Avatar for oscar
    oscar January 26th, 2005


  7. Avatar for Sai Youcho
    Sai Youcho March 3rd, 2005

    A very nice sword indeed. That some MAJOR craftsmanship u got there. I wish I could hold such a piece in my hand some time.

  8. Avatar for iceymoon
    iceymoon March 29th, 2005

    actually, while harakiri and seppuku do contain the same kanji, the reason why they are pronounced differently is because the kanji characters are reversed. ^_^ (??) is hara-kiri. (??) is seppuku. seppuku is considered the proper term because hara-kiri sounds more vulgar (a comparison i could make would be non-literal tranlations of the words to "ritual disembowlment" [seppuku] and "cutting the stomach" [hara-kiri]).

    this was very interesting. :] thanks for posting.

  9. Avatar for chatkat
    chatkat March 30th, 2005

    i appreciate your displays, but you should also take a picture in formal attire, if you know what i mean*wink*wink

  10. Avatar for Lazken
    Lazken April 21st, 2005

    Hattori Hanzo did exist, but he never crafted a sword in his life ...


    you guys watch too many kill bill movies ;)

  11. Avatar for Bryan
    Bryan April 27th, 2005

    i love samurai swords i own 3 of them.i was wondern where can u go to buy or get a tool for sharpening swords ? sadly my swords r not sharp but only one is sharp. so if u can e-mail me as quick as possible tht would be cool :') oh yea tht old guy can really make a sharp sword well byebye !!!!!!! :')

    Ps:lay off the kill bill movies will ya ;-P

  12. Avatar for chuck noriis
    chuck noriis May 11th, 2005

    i love evrything to do with samurai except the way they kill temselves ewwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!!!!!!!!!! i love samurai!!!! they so hot wen fiting.

  13. Avatar for jack perrins
    jack perrins May 11th, 2005

    i love samurai they are so hot!!!

  14. Avatar for Jack Prrins
    Jack Prrins May 11th, 2005

    I am a pom ande we get plenty of samurais in England

  15. Avatar for Jack Prrins
    Jack Prrins May 11th, 2005

    i like cheese

  16. Avatar for Deansie
    Deansie May 11th, 2005


  17. Avatar for American kid
    American kid May 12th, 2005

    i wanna katana...

  18. Avatar for Jubei Katsimoto
    Jubei Katsimoto May 13th, 2005

    i have a paul chen katana folded steel just thought id be cool and say it, im trying to model my life after bushido

  19. Avatar for liam mgwhinney
    liam mgwhinney May 21st, 2005

    my best frend is a samurai sword

  20. Avatar for liam mgwhinny
    liam mgwhinny May 21st, 2005

    hold on a sec i dont hav ne friends so i hav to hav out wiht noye at bmore cause his parents make him

  21. Avatar for Larry
    Larry May 26th, 2005

    Harakiri and Seppuku are not the same thing. Seppuku is assisted suicide and another person cuts your head off after you decapitate yourself. Harakiri just implies suicide, you dont need to use any swords. If a Japanese man were to throw himself of a building, it would be considered harakiri, not seppuku.

  22. Avatar for Mr Hanso
    Mr Hanso May 26th, 2005

    Erm, that isn't a katana you have there... In fact it is a Tanto. It is the smaller sword in a samurai's Daisho (Meaning Big and Small literally) But most of the time it is a Wakizashi and a Katana. It is more often used when an impractical Katana couldnt be (Enclosed spaces). Im starting to think it is a Wakizashi actually, because Samurai tend to use the wakizashi for Seppuku instead of the tanto. Hope that helped

  23. Avatar for roari gazongol
    roari gazongol May 27th, 2005

    But did hattori hanzo really exist? I mean some people are believing the movie kill bill vol:1 that he does exist but thats just the power of the media these days. If he did exist his swords would be awesome!!!

  24. Avatar for Alex Demers - 14 - canada
    Alex Demers - 14 - canada May 30th, 2005

    its a fine tool all my katanas wakizashis and tantos srte only about 2 years old but stil...able to cut through bamboo mats so its good enough for me i own 7 katanas 2 wakizashis and 3 tantos but none are "genuine" can you sugest any swordsmiths on osaka or okinawa ill be there for a month this summer so im hoping to expand my collection. as soon as you get a chance (if you know of any smiths email me back at Spazzy13@hotmail.com thanks


  25. Avatar for Yo Dude ...
    Yo Dude ... June 2nd, 2005

    if there's going to be any language analysis going on, are there any native Japanese speakers out there who know swords and can shed some light on any of this?

  26. Avatar for Ya Mama
    Ya Mama June 9th, 2005

    For the guy thats going to Japan looking for real swordsmiths, all I can tell you is that you better carry a good amount of cash with you ($50k or more). I doubt you can get a real one done in less than a months time, and if you plan to take it out of the country you are going to need a license. Going to Japan and getting a real japanese katana these days is a very hard process...not to mention extemely expensive....good luck!

  27. Avatar for what The heck
    what The heck June 11th, 2005

    Why do you teach poeple to kill themselves? I guess its just for educational purposes.

  28. Avatar for A man
    A man June 11th, 2005

    This site is okay, I like the swords and will be ready to attempt Seppuku when i get my sword in the mail. JUST KIDDING, thanks for teaching us some stuff about Samurai traditions. I am really getting a kantana in the mail though.

  29. Avatar for aaron
    aaron June 16th, 2005

    Hattori Hanzo existed but he did not make swords. Infact he technicaly was not a samurai. He was a practitioner of ninpo (ninjutsu). He allined the 7 leading clans during the pre majie eara (excuse spelling). Ergo becoming the true lord of the ninja.... no a samurai.... not a sword smith... samurai where arrogan pigs who missused power. And much to the belife of the public. ninjas where not assasins... they where more like the underground resistance.. though shure i will admit there would have been the few who did do bounty hunting and so forth. Read some history books.. and try to do it with an unbiased opion and remember the history books where writen by the samurai .... the enemy of the ninja.

  30. Avatar for konnishiki
    konnishiki April 1st, 2006

    Bullshit. From what I've read VERY few women were allowed perform seppuku...unless they resembled and/or sang like Rosie O'Donnell. Most women either killed themselves by stabbing themselves in the neck or heart with a sharp hair pin(although this was supposedly rare as well).

  31. Avatar for some1
    some1 April 16th, 2006

    Yeah, ninjas and samurai didnt like each other, it would be an interesting fight though, dont you all agree? how do u get the licence to hold a katana? or any original samurai sword?

  32. Avatar for Chris Rush
    Chris Rush April 21st, 2006

    The blade you are holding is a Tanto in its shira-saya. Good demo of seppuku but as you can see there is only a small portion of blade left and would not bring a quick death as a wakazashi would. The point was not to just dump ones intestines on the floor, but to sever a major artery that runs anterior to the spine behind the intestines and down the legs. For this you would need a 24" blade like a wakazashi, death is almost instant. And FYI if the Samurai was lucky enough to be beheaded the beheader would only strike the neck deep enough to cut the spinal cord, detaching the head was dishonorable.

  33. Avatar for Matt
    Matt April 25th, 2006

    Well - im glad that in Sri Lanka they are using the traditional way of killing - i.e With guns and bombs and stuff.
    Actually...im not glad about that either.... ;)

  34. Avatar for Listen To  Me, I Know What I'm
    Listen To Me, I Know What I'm May 29th, 2006

    Whoa, Guys...
    I do speak Japanese, and I will tell you that both Harakiri and Seppuku translate very literally to "Disembowelment". As was previously said, however, one is more proper.
    I'll use an analogy:
    Harakiri=Whore where
    Sorry to be vulgar, but that's the only way I could think to put it....=P
    Anyways, in response to a previous post, women were just as expected to kill themselves to regain their honor as men were... To the Japanese during that time period, death had practically no meaning. If they talked like we do now it would have been like "Oh, she killed herself? What a shame...", and then on with the conversation. This is what "Bushido" is all about. Personally, I think I'll skip the whole "Ready to die for my master at any time" thing....:).

  35. Avatar for Perpetualnoise
    Perpetualnoise July 16th, 2006

    and with whoever left the comment of the ninja... try reading... while some ninjas were assassins, many were peasents and fighting was only a small part of it, in Ninjitsu, there are 18 different levels or studdys, while Busido only has like 10 or something, either way, it was a much more disiplined way of life...

    and space ninjas pwn all!

  36. Avatar for JuriDawn
    JuriDawn July 29th, 2006

    Not that I normally put much stock in Wikipedia, but I found this painting interesting:
    A woman committing seppuku would tie her legs together to ensure a decent posture in death. Ya learn something new everyday, no?

  37. Avatar for Quantumform
    Quantumform August 6th, 2006

    "and space ninjas pwn all!"
    lol the plural of ninja is ninja = P
    I ordered a paul chen katana;
    and infact i am holding it now. I own a wakazashi (meaning youth in japanese) but it's not a "real" one.
    Very interesting article I must say. Most katanas are roughly 38~41 inches (including handle), while wakazashis range from about 27 to 31 inches and the tantos are the smallest. In my opinion I would think that it's a tanto you are holding. Very nice = D

  38. Avatar for Sakana
    Sakana September 25th, 2006

    YOur Katan is very nice. I have one katana.but not real.
    Japanese samurais are cool-blood but they are kind,faithful,shy and brave.They have many power.
    I don't understand ,when they defete at war why did "Harakiri"<suicide>. I think, they want success.
    The most I like best is Samurai Katana.Wakizashi and Ronin Swords.

  39. Avatar for Kimpossible
    Kimpossible March 5th, 2007

    Well I hear that in China they tested the swords on Chinese civilians.

  40. Avatar for blademan
    blademan June 4th, 2007

    i made a katana when i was living with poppy, he knew what he was doing cause he did nijutsu all his life, he took me under his wing when my dad walked out and taught the ways of the shadows

  41. Avatar for mortikai, master of blades
    mortikai, master of blades June 4th, 2007

    perpetualnoise u know what ure talking about, and only a few ninja were actually asassins, most of the ninja warriors were really similair to the samurai warriors, then therse the peasents, who wered traind to fight most of there life, although they were still ordinary townsmen, and whoever said that the samurai tested there swords on the towns men, that is true but only in some places, some of the samurai clans were brutal pigs but many were peacefull little townships, and only ever went to war once every decade or so, what does that say for modern man? the people of that time were more disciplined than todays people, and commiting suicide for the samurai thing has a pretty cool story, if you take the time to find the truth. by the way there are 18 disciplines of ninja and i have been studying ninjutsu for nine years, i can make katanas and i have a collection of roughly 5430 shuriken including my 50 inciedary shuriken i recieved from poppy at christmas and i own a real wakazashi sword

  42. Avatar for Horaki
    Horaki July 19th, 2007

    Is this a tantô or a wakizashi?I know it isnt a katana.

  43. Avatar for Tom
    Tom July 23rd, 2007

    Dude, thats not a Katana -its a Tanto...

  44. Avatar for Jo aka MrWeaponman
    Jo aka MrWeaponman August 6th, 2007

    It is a tanto, a very beautiful one. I collect old blades as well, mostly anything Japanese as well as Arming swords. I also collect Shinken, but prefer nihonto xP Please respect that tanto, it is worth a lot of money, not to mention it deserves respect. Also, to all of you who say you "own" antiques, you do not own them.I am in the JSSUS ,Antique blades are not meant to be owned, they are meant to be taken care of for your life, then passed on for another generation to care for (hopefully the new generation will CARE for it xD) Anyways, exquisite blade and nice information.

  45. Avatar for Paul
    Paul August 17th, 2007

    my name is Paul I want to offering you sword of original samurai from Meliau (west borneo). I have 2 samurai, 1 from the officer of Japanese Kaegun whom killed on war in 1940+ and the other's from regulary soldier marine's but sorry I have crops/bound of the die soldier because the already take with their friend. So it just the samuray,katana and sertificate of that sword. if you interested please contact me in 081345517183!or gived your address and I will send the pict of that samuray's.
    that's all thank you.

  46. Avatar for Formal samurai sword
    Formal samurai sword June 16th, 2008

    I'm interested in history of samurai sword.Emperor of Japan "Tennno" is the last royal prerogative supported by ancient myth in the world.
    The Oldest japanese myth literature "Kojiki" says that Imperial treasure sword was got by the god Susanoo from eight head dragon in Izumo.
    Raw steel of samurai sword is only made by Hitachi Metals at Yasugi Izumo Shimane prefecture.However Hitachi Metals is famous high-tech steel maker,raw material of formal japanese sword is made by ancient steel making method "Tatara". Raw steel is called "Tamahagane"(Jewel like steel).
    I hear that it is supreme one for sword making.I wanna get and forge it.

  47. Avatar for mr magoo
    mr magoo June 22nd, 2008

    To Bryan; There is no tool per se that can sharpen a sword in the sense that you are thinking. Swords are sharpened with stones. The stones are special. They are mined in Japan, cost hundreds of dollars each, and are difficult to get. It takes many grades of stones to polish the blade down to a decent finish, then finger stones to bring out the temper line, along with different types of oils and etc to get it to a high degree of polish. Many polishers charge $100 to $300 per inch of blade, up one side and down the other, and unless you have an ancestral blade made by an excellent smith, it's not worth it to have the blade put into full polish. Fred Lohman does a basic polish job good enough for the average sword for around $800. Stones alone will run you thousands of dollars. That's why a professional job cost so much. Magoo

  48. Avatar for Steve Martindale
    Steve Martindale July 14th, 2008

    Te blade displayed is a tanto (Japanese short blade)not a katana (Japanese longer sword).

  49. Avatar for stephen bryan
    stephen bryan October 14th, 2008

    I'm old and always wanted a samurai sword.I read the "Book of five rings"when I was a teenager,and it got me through some difficult times.I bought a 3 piece stainless steel replica set dirt cheap,and spent days sharpening them.I know they're not the real thing,but just the shape and feel will do for an old fellow.I relate to the old guy wanting to be left out for the bears rather than the old persons home.The method of Hari-kiri is something that I may use in the future,,,how noble to be that unselfish in ones twilight years.Is it true that the sword is only drawn when it will shed blood,therefore obliging the Samurai to pursue diplomacy and any other means to prevent the blood bath that will result?Peace to you

  50. Avatar for D Rogers
    D Rogers March 17th, 2009

    As I understand it the difference between seppuku and harikari is the intent behind the act seppuku being the honourable suicide while harikiri the belly slash is something your lord would command you to do to regain his honour

  51. Avatar for Byakkotai
    Byakkotai May 7th, 2010

    That is a tanto, how could anyone even mistake that for a katana ?

  52. Avatar for Andrea
    Andrea May 27th, 2010

    I love the seppuku and one day I want to do, very funny, but will i die?

  53. Avatar for l
    l October 5th, 2011

    Andrea thats a dumb thing to ask of corse you wuld die your ripping into your gust and then spilling em out duh

  54. Avatar for jan
    jan June 15th, 2016

    I totally disagree with your idiotic sense of humor!I would send half breeds like you in a Siberian gulag in the winter,to learn how to respect life,and death!Fucking idiot!