Seppuku: A History of Samurai Suicide

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Overview


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 ...
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Seppuku: A History of Samurai Suicide

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Overview


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

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"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." --
Library Journal

Library Journal
A study of over 800 years of the Japanese practice of ritual suicide by disembowelment might seem grisly, but there's far more here than blood and gore. British author Rankin, who lived in Japan for many years, provides an array of fictional and historical accounts from the practice's earliest days to the beginning of the 20th century to examine seppuku's history, its shift from a spontaneous martial deed performed in the heat of battle to a formalized ritual with elaborate protocol, and the act's philosophical resonances that led it to become an intrinsic part of samurai culture. Interspersed are a selection of rules from seppuku manuals, a look at types of seppuku, and a chapter of quotes from plays, death poems, and other sources. Rankin also casts a critical eye on narratives that might have been embellished or romanticized; accounts of popular figures long admired in Japan and elsewhere as ideals of samurai loyalty come under particularly sharp scrutiny. VERDICT Rankin clearly intends this to be the definitive English work on seppuku. 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.—Kathleen McCallister, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9784770031426
  • Publisher: Kodansha USA
  • Publication date: 5/1/2011
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 674,947
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew Rankin was educated at the universities of London (SOAS), Tokyo, and Cambridge, and lived in Japan for many years.

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Table of Contents

Author's Note 7

Introduction: Aesthetics of Seppuku 9

History of Seppuku to 1600 33

Ancient Texts 35

Minamoto no Tametomo 37

Medieval War Tales 41

Seppuku as Execution 55

Kaishaku 62

Nishina Morinobu 64

Shimizu Muneharu 67

Shibata Katsuie 72

Sen no Rikyu 77

Toyotomi Hidetsugu 80

The Seppuku Ritual 85

Seppuku Ritual Protocols 87

Types of Seppuku 97

History of Seppuku after 1600 103

Junshi Martyrdom 105

The Principle of Dual Blame 115

The Ako Incident 123

The 1700s: Urban Dandies and Paper Fans 138

The Kiso Anti-flood Project 152

The 1800s: "Revere the Emperor, Expel the Barbarians!" 156

The Aizu White Tigers 184

Revolt of the League of the Divine Wind 195

Nogi Maresuke 201

Paradigms 213

Glossary 236

Bibliography 237

Index 246

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  • Posted May 7, 2014

    This is a very well written book using parts of history to expla

    This is a very well written book using parts of history to explain what did or may have happened. When I was in college, I signed up for a course called History of the Far East. by the third class my head was swimming trying to keep up with all of the names and the names of the different clans. I dropped the class after the fourth session because I had no idea how to keep up with all of the names. I once again had a difficult time with the names although it did get easier toward the end of the book. If languages are easy to you then this will be a easy read. One thing I did not know was there is a different name for different types of stomach cutting. Poor people have one kind, relatives have a kind and the list goes on and on. It is quite interesting that this book does away with what most people think about belly cutting. This term, belly cutting, is used quite a bit in the book and even with different names, it all goes back to the term belly cutting. Since I have never read a book with this as the main subject, I cannot compare it to another writer. I will say it is well worth the money and time to read the book. Just a note. The class started with 25 people, ten took the final, 3 passed the class.

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