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A dead silence followed, broken only by the hideous noise of the blood throbbing out of the inert heap before us, which but a moment before had been a brave and chivalrous man. It was horrible.
— Algernon Mitford, Tales Of Old Japan
You're a samurai and you're pissed off. You've been pigeon-holed into choosing between obeying foolish/evil orders or abandoning your warrior ideals. Either way, you lose.
Time to send a message. Those gaijin may say it with flowers, but samurai say it with bowels. Their own bowels to be precise. For a true SamuraiWarrior Poet, this is the onlythird option you can take and preserve your honor.
Seppuku is a centuries-old Japanese rite of suicide — literally, "stomach cutting". Harakiri (often misspelled as "hari-kari" or worse) is a more in-speech term for the same thing. Many people have incorrectly believed that harakiri is a more vulgar term, but it is not true. The words actually share the same kanji: "seppuku" is the on-yomi reading of those kanji, while "harakiri" is the kun-yomi reading. How and why seppuku is to be performed, what it means, and so on depends on the historical era, gender, and context. The Theme Park Version, however, is this:
After a period of meditation, the samurai walks out before the witnesses and sits seiza on a white sheet or platform; a special knife is set before him and a stern-looking dude stands behind him with a raised sword. The samurai says whatever the drama necessitates, then rams the knife deep into his abdomen, curving up into his chest cavity, and slowly pulls it from left to right. The stern-looking dude (kaishakunin, or "second") is expected to be a sport and cut off his head before the samurai loses his composure. It's just bad suicide etiquette for the victim to show pain as he's disemboweling himself, after all. Bonus points if he can cut the head off in such a way that a tiny strap of skin still connects it to the body, thus preventing it from rolling on the floor.
Since disembowelling oneself is considered unladylike, the female version of this, jigai, is a little different: the suicidal woman sits seiza, ties her legs together so they won't fall open scandalously after death, and slices her jugular vein with a knife. It's mainly used when military defeat is imminent, to go out with honor rather than suffer either a Cruel and Unusual Death or a Fate Worse Than Death (amongst other things) at the hands of the invading army.
A similar practice, known as kagebara is a common dramatic device in Japanese theater. In this, a character comes onto the stage, proceeds to tell off a lord who isn't being particularly smart in his decisions, and then open his robe to reveal he's already slit his belly and "punished" himself for his treasonous act. This is linked to kanshi, or a retainer committing seppuku to protest an act by his lord.
The reason for wearing white in both cases is because it contrasts so well with red. If you're going to die, might as well die in style. White also symbolises death in Japanese culture, showing that one is ready to be buried.
This also counts as the most sincere way to say "I'm sorry", "I'm a dishonorable failure" or "Better to Die Than Be Killed" to society at large. This is Serious Business, people.
For the Wiki's purposes, seppuku covers a broad range of ritualized suicides. Basically, whenever a Japanese character (or vaguely Asian one) makes a big deal about how, why, and when they kill themselves, this is what's understood to be happening.
In what may or may not be related to this tradition, the World Health Organization ranks Japan ninth globally in reported suicides (the United States is 45th and the UK 60th, out of 95 candidates). In comparison to countries of similar wealth, these statistics indicate a different attitude toward suicide that might be evident in Japanese honour-centric culture and sensationalist entertainment.
In Real Life Japan, it isn't uncommon, though still shocking, for disgraced officials and politicians to do themselves in, albeit not according to ritual. When a celebrity kills themselves, expect more than a few dedicated fans to follow suit.
Compare Leave Behind a Pistol and Bath Suicide for similarly ritualised suicide methods in the West. Sometimes Ate His Gun may substitute edged utensils for method of self-termination.
As this is a Death Trope, beware of unmarked spoilers.
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Anime and Manga
In Love Hina, at one point Motoko offers to help with the ritualized suicides of the Ronin who have not managed to get into Tokyo University. And after a failed attempt at femininity, she misinterprets one of Keitaro's comments as suggesting that she kill herself, and she asks Su to be her second. Thankfully she soon reverts to her normal self. Something that makes this dramatic scene hilarious is that Motoko is holding a sharpened knife near her abdomen: a "proper" woman would commit suicide by cutting open her jugular, as stated in the paragraphs above... so if she actually went through with it, she would've failed at femininity again.
Ranma's mother Nodoka in Ranma ½ is charged with carrying around the sword to be used by her as the kaishakuninshould her son or husband disgrace themselves◊. Luckily for them, she's not very good with the sword. Unluckily for them, she's dead serious about her duty. What pushes this into Honor Before Reason territory (and would push Nodoka into Abusive Parents territory in any series that took itself more seriously) is that the contract she is so dedicated to following literally consists of a verbal vow from Genma that "I will make Ranma a man among men", and a written contract consisting of "I will commit seppuku", signed with Genma's thumb-print and baby-Ranma's handprint.
In the end, she accepts Ranma's female side (and it's implied that she forgives the whole "Ranko" deception) on the grounds that, regardless of what Ranma looks like, he's a man through and through. Unmanly behavior can still make her reach for her sword, though...
Lone Wolf and Cub's Ogami Itto was the head kaishakunin of the Shogun before they killed his wife and he became a Ronin, and in the story several characters are threatened with (and commit) Seppuku should they fail to capture Itto and Daigoro.
Kumadori of One Piece would frequently claim responsibility for failures that weren't his fault in the first place, and proceed to attempt seppuku — only to always subconsciously harden his body and thus survive.
In Black Lagoon, During the flashback segments of the submarine arc, it is revealed the Japanese army officer aboard the ship committed Seppuku rather than die of asphyxiation when it was obvious the submarine would never be able to surface again.
Yukio Washimine gives herself a Impromptu Tracheotomy with Ginji's katana after Revy kills him in the final episode. It counts as seppuku as not only she does it right after the death of her only remaining supporter, but it follows the traditional suicide rite for women: piercing her own throat. Only Yukio, for obvious reasons, does it with a katana instead of a dagger.
Hatsu and Koon bicker about the others culture in Tower of God, Koon asks if Hatsu's people still perform Halbok, the Korean equivalent to seppuku. Whereas Koon thinks it is a barbaric, idiotic rite, Hatsu believes it is one of the manliest things one can do. He then proceeds to call Koon a sissy for wearing ear-rings.
In The Five Star Stories, Blreno, wracked with guilt over losing both the war against Colus and his entire battalion attempts Seppuku during an audience with his king, only for the king to knock the sword from his hand. Turns out the king is just glad he made it back alive and wants him to keep fighting to learn from his mistakes so he can improve, rather than kill himself over them.
In Utawarerumono the heroes surround and overwhelm a cruel lord's castle. The lord's general, Benawi, realizes that they have lost and he urges his master to "die with honor" and offers to assisst him. The lord doesn't dare, so Benawi kills him himself. Then he unceremoniously tries to cut off his own head. The hero stops him and he asks if he should live in shame. Next scene he's feasting happily with the victorious army.
Likely due to changing social mores and Japan's ludicrous suicide rate, it's becoming increasingly common in various Japanese media to deconstruct this. The Twilight Samurai (Tasogare Seibei in Japan) features a samurai ordered to kill himself when his master is dishonored; he refuses, and is given a death sentence to be carried out by the title character. Seibei does not particularly hold it against the man that he refuses to kill himself: he simply has been ordered to do something, and he has children and an ailing mother to care for.
Likewise, Kenshin Himura of Rurouni Kenshin fame has said outright that he began his life as a wanderer as an alternative to suicide, and encourages others to follow his path of atonement. His reasoning is simply that killing himself helps no one and he can do much more good alive. A similar Aesop pops up in Tales of Symphonia: all life has value, and death solves nothing.
Towards the end of the Ganryu Takeda mini-arc, Megumi was about to commit jigai with a dagger that Aoshi had given her, thinking the Kenshin-gumi had perished at the hands of the Oniwabashu. Sanosuke gives her a Get A Hold Of Yourself Man to stop her.
Also, Villainous Crossdresser Kamatari tries to kill himself through jigai after losing to Kaoru and Misao. The latter has to knock him out to keep him from taking his own life. Later on his former comrade Chou lies to him about Shishio's last wish so he won't try to kill himself again, now that his master and one-sided crush is dead.
Spoofed on the "About the Author" page of volume four of the manga. Nobuhiro Watsuki draws himself doing this as punishment for failing to live up to a promise he made in volume two. With Kenshin as kaishakunin.
Early in Nurarihyon No Mago, Gyuuki tries to do this after revealing why he plotted to kill Rikuo, in order to preserve the honor of the Nura clan. However, Rikuo (in his Nurarihyon form) stops him by breaking the blade off his sword, understanding his reasons for doing so.
In Naruto, Kakashi's father Sakumo commits seppuku, having failed a mission as a result of going to save his friends, and being ostracized for his failure, even by those he saved (the act is not witnessed, but a young Kakashi finds his father's body after the deed is done).
In a filler episode, Koumei is ordered to commit seppuku as the sentence for being behind the cursed warrior incidents despite being innocent. Later in the arc, in a flashback Toki, seeing her brother dying, contemplates committing seppuku, but his spirit inspires her to keep on living. The whole arc was in fact full of this - when Shishima is unable to convince the Hokage to accept his mission, he pulls out a knife and stabs himself in the... moneybags? They were tied to his stomach, and the reactions of Tsunade and Shizune are truly priceless.
Kiku Honda aka the Moe Anthropomorphism of Japan tries to kill himself through seppuku in the second strip of Axis Powers Hetalia, thinking it's the standard way to reply when captured. He's shocked when his partners, Germany and Italy, react differently.
In Urusei Yatsura, There are a couple of manga chapters/TV episodes that end with Shuutaro Mendou threatening to commit suicide out of shame, though he never follows through for various reasons (mostly concerning a cloud of girls who physically restrain him from doing so).
In Get Backers, three different characters attempt suicide during the IL arc, but Juubei's the one everyone compares to a samurai. He tries to kill his best friend and "lord," Kazuki, and, when he loses that fight, begs Kazuki to kill him. When Kazuki refuses, he tries to do it himself and tells Kazuki he always intended to kill himself, win or lose, as atonement.
Then there is Kai Suwabara from Yakitate!! Japan, who wanted to commit seppuku because of his inability to win against Azuma, after several tries. He is only stopped because his girlfriend says that she is pregnant and it would bring greater shame to leave her as an alone mother. She isn't. They have, after all, just hugged eachother.
And in Applicant for Death by the same artist, a girl commits seppuku while having sex with her brother's decapitated corpse while his head watches.
The Legend of Koizumi: when Shinzo Abe fails in an attempt to pass the missing Koizumi's son Kotaro off as his father in a mahjong match with Vladimir Putin, he commits seppuku in front of his maid.
Performed at the beginning of the first issue of Mai-Chan's Daily Life as an exhibition piece. Since the main character has a Healing Factor, she survives the experience, but earns the mockery and abuse of her handler for failing to complete the ritual and chop off her own head before fainting from blood loss.
In Hokuto No Ken, Ryuga commits kagebara before his battle with Kenshiro.
In the Lupin III (Red Jacket) episode "Kooky Kabuki", Goemon betrays Lupin to help a woman, is in turn betrayed himself, and decides seppuku is the only way he can make amends, with Lupin himself doing the beheading part. Lupin can't bear to behead his friend, so he instead punches him, leading to a fist fight and a reconciliation.
In Blade of the Immortal, Kensui commits sepukku after being ordered to betray Anotsu, who acts as his second. Later Hisoka follows by cutting her throat.
Hibaki is given a month before he is obligated to commit seppuku after failing to prevent an attack on the castle. He uses it to hunt down the remaining Itto-ryu. During this time, his wife and son kill themselves so they won't be used as hostages.
In episode 4 of Samurai Champloo, a noble Yakuza leader does this as an act of defiance/taking a third option between his son being killed and losing his territory. At the end of the episode, one of his former lieutenants who had joined his unpleasant rival redeems himself by committing Suicide by Mugen.
In Ooku The Inner Chambers, a number of retainers follow Shogun Iemitsu into death. The 47 Ronin also make an appearance later.
Gundam Unicorn features a Humongous Mecha doing this with the barrel of a sniper rifle. In context he was trying to pierce the reactor and blow up the enemies who were surrounding him, but the pose he does it in is meant to be evocative of seppuku.
In Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, Mizoguchi with his Samurai deck has a card called "Resolve of the Lord and Retainer". The illustration has a man about to commit seppuku, and it inflicts damage to both players by making a blade appear in their hands with which they stab themselves.
In the anime adaptation of Death Note, Mikami does himself in with a pen after Light Yagami reveals his true nature, the former losing faith after the latter's spectacular breakdown.
In Bleach, Giselle Gewelle uses her powers to force a bunch of guys to kill themselves like this.
Giselle: "Okay, everyone! Seppuku ~"
In the X/1999 TV series, Hinoto performs jigai in the Dream Scape to kill both herself andherDark Self. As a bonus, Hinoto's body appears mortally wounded in the Real World - quite the feat, considering she's crippled, deaf and blind in here.
At the end of the Tintin story The Blue Lotus, it's stated that Big Bad Mitsuhirato committed hara-kiri (as it was usually known in the West at the time).
Hilariously parodied in the Latin-American comic strip Mafalda:
Manolito: I heard that the Japanese slice their bellies open and FWOOOSH commit Ikebana!
Mafalda: What the Hell, that's hara-kiri! Ikebana has to do with flowers! (leaves)
Manolito: That's their wake, you moron!
Appears regularly in Usagi Yojimbo, since the series is based on historical Japan.
In an issue of Daredevil (set just before Shadowland), DD is the head of The Hand, a cult of ninjas. One of his lieutenants is getting too ambitious and would rather be the head, so some of DD's other lieutenants kill him, and later claim he committed suppuku since he failed to become leader of The Hand.
In the very first issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the four heroes offer Shredder the chance to commit Seppuku so that he may die with honor. (In most versions of the Turtles' continuity, the term bushido is used liberally and is a code that can be followed by Ninja as well as Samurai.) Instead Shredder opts to blow them all up with a grenade.
In one Calvin and Hobbes strip, Calvin asks Hobbes if this would be the appropriate response to breaking his father's prized binoculars, or if running away from home would be sufficient. Hobbes suggests both.
An InuYasha one-shot, Sisters, Forever, states that Kikyo's father, blaming himself for her mother's death, left a young Kaede in Kikyo's care before committing seppuku.
In System Restore, Kuzuryuu tries this for reasons similar to the Super Dangan Ronpa 2 example below, but in this fic, he fails because his hands are badly burned from a failed attempt to save Pekoyama's life.
Airplane! features a Japanese general doing this rather than listening to one of Ted's stories.
Harakiri (1962) is a black and white Jidai Geki and massive Take That to the seppuku ritual and its portrayal in fiction. In it, ronin request permission of daimyo (local magistrates) to kill themselves and be buried on their property, hoping to be turned away and given sympathy money; one young samurai is called on the bluff and forced to complete the ritual — with a blunt stick of bamboo. Bloody, poetic justice is enacted by the young samurai's father-in-law, who realised his son-in-law had already sold his swords to pay for medicine for his sick wife and child. The entire movie revolves around the father's revenge, although at the end he shows his honour by cutting his belly just before his enemies gun him down. It is an EXTREMELY good movie.
In Harold and Maude, this is how Harold stages one of his elaborate fake suicides. Amusingly, instead of scaring off his would-be date, as intended, she recognizes it as a performance and joins in.
In The House Where Evil Dwelled, an American couple and their best friend are possessed by the spirit of three Japanese people who haunt the house the couple moved into when the man was transferred to Japan. Due to the possession, the two guys eventually fight due to the wife and friend's affair, the man killing the friend, then his wife, then he commits seppuku. Then the spirits get up and leave the bodies lying on the floor.
In the film version of The Hunger Games, Seneca, having been in charge of the Games and allowing two winners, is lead to a room, with a bowl of the poisonous nightshade berries that Katniss used to save herself and Peeta.
General Hasegawa from The Last Samurai, a member of the samurai class who leads the modernized army against the rebels, commits seppuku after his forces lose the battle. Katsumoto, the opposing leader and one of his old friends, is "honored to take his head". Algren, who sees it from the back, misses the stomach-cutting, and thus thinks it was just Katsumoto murdering an unarmed man.
Later, Algren helps the defeated Katsumoto kill himself after the samurai are horribly slaughtered in a charge against a number of Gatling guns. This is in the understanding that he is taking his own life after his service to his Emperor is complete, the samurai rebellion crushed, which, really, Katsumoto knew was going to happen anyway. His sacrifice succeeds: the Emperor finally pushes back against the Westernization of Japan.
This is mentioned after Katsumoto is attacked by assassins during a theater performance, when Algren suspects the Emperor. Katsumoto rejects the idea, saying that if the Emperor wants his life, all he has to do is ask.
Ran includes several instances of seppuku, but perhaps the most significant is the one that Lord Hidetora never commits. He can't, because his sword is broken. Instead he goes insane inside his burning castle.
Seppuku and the legend of The 47 Ronin are spoken about in the (distinctly non-Japanese film) Ronin.
Played for laughs in Scary Movie 4: The Japanese UN delegate runs himself through after the President accidentally uses an alien weapon to remove his clothes.
In Serenity, the Operative references both seppuku and Roman generals falling on their swords when talking with a scientist who has screwed up hardcore. When said scientist doesn't take the hint, the Operative forcefully helps him out with regaining his lost honor.
When Crassus completely politically outmaneuvers Gracchus in Spartacus he forces him into a position where he has to move to a dump far from Rome where his only job will be to wait until such time as Crassus needs him to support some position he tells him, to and be sent back. All the humiliated Gracchus is left to do in the movie is help organize freeing Spartacus's wife and child, in order to spite Crassus and organize his household. Then, with his women slaves weeping, he picks up the prettiest knife he has and walks off to the bedroom...
In Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky an evil minion commits seppuku and then tries to strangle the hero with his intestines. The rest of the movie has the same Gorn vibe.
Tokyo Gore Police has a spoof PSA decrying the practice, filmed in the usual surreal Japanese advertisement fashion. In it, a disgraced businessman is egged on into Hara-Kiri, by both his boss and a man covered in blue spots. He commits it, and is then shown with his intestines pouring out (a deliberate Special Effect Failure), before reminding us that it's actually suicide.
In The Wolverine the Japanese military leaders preferred to die with honor rather than in the atomic explosion that was coming.
In Machete, when Machete mortally wounds Torrez, Torrez scornfully finishes himself off this way, to deny Machete to glory of killing him. Torrez has to pause, saying it hurts more than he thought it would, before pulling the blade all the way through.
Obviously, this takes place in 47 Ronin. Kai, the half-Mighty Whitey protagonist, goes through it with the ronin themselves.
A similar ritual is observed in Tsurannuanni, the Oriental Fantasy Counterpart Culture in The Riftwar Cycle. For example, in Daughter of the Empire, Papewaio asks permission to fall on his sword for entering the family's sacred grove (the alternative being a decidedly less honorable hanging).
Several characters in Jessica Amanda Salmonson's Tomoe Gozen Saga, including the title character's husband.
As seen in a textbook example of the act in the novel Warrior: Coupe (and occasionally brought up in later ones), the tradition is alive and well in the 31st century in the Draconis Combine of the BattleTech universe.
A stronger dramatic example would be in the novel Wolves On The Border, with the seppuku at the end an inevitable consequence of an act of kindness at the very beginning. Notable for deviating from the absolute tradition of the act (the second does not have a sword, using a more modern weapon) as well as effectively causing an entire war unto itself, with repercussions all the way into the novel Wolf Pack and beyond.
This happens again in Wolf Pack, except that it's happening to the Coordinator of the Draconis Combine, who put himself into a situation which would have weakened his nation and the entire Inner Sphere no matter how it ended...unless he died before this no-win scenario played out.
A woman's version of the event, as described above, is set up in Grave Covenant, broadcast live across the entire capital planet of the Draconis Combine. Unusual in that she is given a second, in the person of the man who saved her life from assassins. While it's stated the broadcast is more for political show than an actual instance of the act (the woman involved was never meant to take her own life), the people involved go from playing their parts to living them, and are interrupted very dramatically before the act can take place.
As you would expect, seppuku is a Very Serious Business Indeed in Shogun; Blackthorne's attempt at seppuku is a life-changing event that wins him the respect of the other samurai, and Toranaga's entire Batman Gambit hangs or falls on Mariko's seppuku. Mariko ultimately goes through, openly stating that her death shall be seen as seppuku before throwing herself in a fire, so Toranaga wins.
In the Michael Crichton thriller Rising Sun, the amoral Japanese executive who was behind all the murder and cover ups of the story asks for a moment alone to collect himself after indisputable evidence of his guilt is presented. When he is left alone, he jumps off the very tall balcony he's on and into wet cement, killing himself. Interestingly, the protagonists (who are LA police officers) knew exactly what he was about to do, and let him do it on purpose (the evidence they had likely wouldn't have held up in trial, due to experimental techniques).
The Corrupt Corporate Executive who instigated a war between the United States and Japan in Tom Clancy's Debt Of Honor, when captured, asks for a few moments alone to prepare himself for capture. His request is refused, however, and the general capturing even says that he is not allowed to have that particular escape.
In The Bible, King Saul fell on his sword to avoid being captured by the Philistines.
In the Fighting Fantasy gamebook Sword of the Samurai, where the Player Character is - what else? - a Samurai - you do this automatically if your Honor Score drops to 0 (which means, naturally, you lose).
Atrocity Week by Andrew McCoy. The wife of a Japanese businessman kills herself in the jigai manner after being raped by a guerrilla raiding party. No-one tries to stop her, figuring she'll just do it later when they're not around.
A Culture Clash example occurs in Temeraire. Lawrence is facing execution in Japan for trespassing however his host offers to let him commit Seppuku in order to preserve his honor (and the host's honor). Lawrence is aghast at the suggestion since as a devout Christian and an Officer and a Gentleman he regards suicide as a cowardly act and (more importantly) a mortal sin.
In Interesting Times, the Agatean Empire's equivalent to Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler is named Disembowel-Myself-Honorably Dhibala in reference to this. Nobody actually performs seppuku in the book, though, the more common method of suicide being telling Cohen the Barbarian you would rather die than betray your Emperor.
The main villain of the James Bond novel The Man with the Red Tattoo has dedicated himself to follow the old Samurai ethics, and in the climax, he follows his failure of defeating Bond in a duel with a seppuku.
In one skit on Comedy Inc, a Japanese man is playing golf and misses a visibly easy shot. He then proceeds to break his golf bat and uses it to commit seppuku. His two white opponents watch him with complete composure; once he’s dead, one of them says, ‘Well, there goes the deal.’
Done in a Flashback in Highlander: The Series, when Duncan washes up on a Japanese island after his ship sinks in a storm. During that time, all gaijin were supposed to be killed on sight by order of the Emperor, but a local lord takes him in instead, even teaching him some Japanese ways. When the Emperor finds out, he lets the lord know his displeasure. The lord then asks Duncan to help him commit seppuku, who is, at first, reluctant, but then agrees to do the honor of chopping the head. He gets to keep the sword too, which is what he uses throughout the show.
On How I Met Your Mother Barney mimes committing suicide several times when he feels Ted and Robin are being too lovey-dovey with each other; at one point this includes miming seppuku.
Mentioned in Mystery Science Theater 3000 occasionally by Tom Servo, although he was asking for help due to having nonfunctional arms. (This was, of course, a reaction to the movie that week being particularly bad.)
In the Red Dwarf escape "Back to Reality", one of the Despair Squid's victims kills himself in this manner.
One episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation had Worf getting crippled from the waist down by a falling crate. Since he's a Klingon, he feels that the only honorable thing for him to do would be to commit ritual suicide, and asks Riker to be his second. Everyone aboard objects strenuously, and Worf is nearly convinced that life is still worth living — Until a rogue surgeon offers him a possibly deadly operation, which he almost instantly takes them up on, and it works perfectly.
Technically, he was almost convinced to live when Riker found out that, according to Klingon tradition, Worf's second was supposed to be his six-year-old son Alexander. Also, the operation is actually botched; Worf only survives because Klingons are Made of Iron, and he hadn't quite hurt himself badly enough for his backup spinal cord to kick in.
Worf also attempts this in "Night Terrors", when the Enterprise is stuck in a Tyken's Rift and the crew are faced with the prospect of being slowly driven insane by a lack of REM sleep. Troi manages to stop him just before he goes through with it.
Worf's brother, Kurn asks that Worf assist him in performing this ritual after Worf dishonors his family in Deep Space Nine. Dax realizes Worf's intent and tries to stop it, just a moment too late. Odo claims that Worf could be charged with murder if Kurn doesn't survive.
Also from DS9, the Jem'Hadar are a species born and bred to serve the Founders, a race of God Guise shapeshifters. The Jem'Hadar were programmed from birth to revere their masters, and would commit suicide en masse if a Founder died on their watch. ("The Ship)
In the WW2 period drama Tenko the Japanese internment camp guard Sato commits seppuku rather than acknowledge the allied victory. It's a strangely chilling, yet dignified, scene.
An American admiral in stationed in Japan commits suicide in the JAG episode "Innocence" for what he perceived to be a failure on his part. The characters can’t help by commenting how Japanese it all was.
As a part of the many pains that Shin "Oshin" Tanemura went through, her husband Ryuuzou crossed the Despair Event Horizon and shot himself dead around the end of World War II, both out of grief for the death of his and Oshin's eldest son Takeshi in the war and after the family goes bankrupt.
On Good Eats, after having been called out for giving Alton erroneous information, the owner of the simulated Asian market attempts this. Alton stops him.
In Mash, the episode "Goodbye, Cruel World" featured a guilt-ridden Asian-American soldier who, despite being sent home a war hero, kept trying to commit suicide. In the words of the psychiatrist, Major Freedman, he had to kill Asians "to be a good American," but then had to kill himself "to be a good Asian."
In one episode of Good News Week after the Japanese Prime Minister resigned, Paul McDermott commented, "The resignation took a lot of guts... but not as much guts as a traditional Japanese resignation."
In the Haven episode "Burned", a man named Lance kills himself this way when Ginger tells him, "I hate your guts!"
In the Chinese manhua, Ravages Of Time (an adaptation of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms), the idea of a ritualized suicide to redeem yourself is mocked by several characters. The ultimate example would be, Lu Bu, once he was defeated by Cao Cao and was about to be executed. He was even willing to bow and beg for his life at random spectators; Cao Cao respected him, for that since it take more courage to live than to die. The only reason it didn't work was because Liu Bei pointed out his Chronic Back Stabbing Disorder to Cao Cao.
Minamoto no Yoshitsune committed seppuku to avoid the disgrace of capture or falling to an unworthy foe. His vastly outnumbered followers, because of their dedication, were able to hold off the Zerg Rush of his brother's soldiers, who were inferior not in training but in dedication, and buy him the time for this. (Although Yoshitsune is a historical figure, the accounts of his death are mostly legendary.
In BattleTech, the Draconis Combine brings back Seppuku, particularly among it's mechwarriors. The "Total Warfare" rulebook contains a passage about a Draconis Commander who very nearly commits suicide after successfully withdrawing his forces from a Lyran blitzkrieg. The crime is having withdrawn without permission. The reprieve is that the attack was part of a larger conflict, and the Combine would need every commander and Mechwarrior it had.
Legend of the Five Rings, set in a Fantasy Counterpart Culture to medieval Japan, naturally has seppuku as a plot element, and several cards and even basic game mechanics in the Collectible Card Game revolve around it. It also reinforced the idea that in most cases, seppuku was more to cleanse the family/clan/empire's honor rather than the one who was committing seppuku.
The most notable character to commit seppuku within the storyline was Emperor Toturi I, who did so to purify his soul of the Lying Darkness' corruption.
Prior he acted as kaishakunin to Matsu Tsuku, who had succeeded him as daimyo of the Lion Clan, only to see the consequences of choosing loyalty to the (corrupted) Emperor rather than to the Empire itself. This allowed the Lion Clan to honorably reverse its stance and join in the overthrow of said Emperor.
In Ninja Burger, a ninja who loses all honor has to apologize to his ancestors. "This requires you to go to visit them, and unfortunately it will not be possible for you to come back." (The unfortunate player discards all cards and has to start with a new character.)
Cio-Cio-San in the tear-jerking finale of the opera Madame Butterfly. She commits jigai by cutting her throat with the ceremonial dagger presented to her father by the Mikado, bearing the inscription: "To die with honor when one can no longer live with honor."
In The Mikado, Nanki-Poo threatens to perform "the Happy Despatch" with a dagger if Ko-Ko tries to prevent him from hanging himself.
Spoofed in Disgaea 2. Yukimaru threatens impromptu seppuku upon losing to the main characters in the Inevitable Tournament. After several seconds of the ninja standing there with herself at knife-point, Taro and Hanako point out that she's obviously expecting someone to talk her out of it for dramatic effect. Adell begrudgingly obliges, accidentally charming the pants off of her in the process.
This takes special note because Yukimaru is supposed to be a ninja, and Adell's suggestion for how she could carry out her assault on Zenon is, ironically, what a real ninja would do; work their way into any group that bests her to ensure that they get close to their mark. Yukimaru shows that she has learned from this by talking Fubuki out of his own seppuku attempt later on.
The dwarves in Dragon Age have their own variation of this. When faced with either exile to the surface or a lonely death in the Deep Roads, many criminals in Orzammar decide to instead join the Legion of the Dead as a way to regain their lost honour. After a ceremony where they are declared to be already dead, they descend into the furthest reaches of the Deep Roads to hold back the Darkspawn horde for the rest of their natural lives, or until they fall in battle.
Female Grey Wardens are also given the option to do a variation on this when they get their Calling and the Darkspawn taint starts to overpower them, with the other choice for both female and male Grey Wardens is to go out taking out as many Darkspawn as they can. The reason is that female Grey Wardens are at risk for becoming Broodmothers for the Darkspawn, a Fate Worse Than Death that horribly mutates them.
Evil sports fanatic Harakiri Seppukumaru from the Ganbare Goemon series considers seppuku to be the ultimate extreme sport, making various failed attempts to commit the ritual after being thwarted by the heroes. He manages to go through with it in the anime adaptation, but... the knife turns out to be retractable.
Additionally, it's revealed in Ganbare Goemon 4 that if Seppukumaru succeeds, it will cause the powerful bomb inside his body to explode (which would obviously be a very bad thing). He was imprisoned on Planet Impact by his own henchmen before the heroes came along and accidentally freed him by removing the barriers surrounding the planet. But why seppuku, of all things? Because he wanted to try something new. Seriously.
Mortal Kombat: Deception has the "Hara-Kiri" as a companion to the Fatality. During the typical "FINISH HIM/HER!" moment where the winner can perform a Fatality, the loser can input a special button combination and do a Hara-Kiri instead, essentially committing suicide in various ways before the opponent can finish them off. (The most common methods involve doing... all kinds of unpleasant thing to your own head. Beheading is just the beginning.)
Of the above, however, Kenshi is the only character who actually performs a seppuku. Seen around 2:15 into the video. (Though he only goes through the first cut and has no kaishakunnin, obviously.) It should be noted that Kenshi likely comes closer to fitting the description of a Samurai more than any other character in the franchise does.
Soulcalibur IV modeled Yoshimitsu's Critical Finish attack after seppuku, with Yoshi playing the role of the kaishakunin.
Additionally, several of his unblockable attacks come in the form of stabbing himself in the stomach. One is done from a stance where he would have his back turned to his enemy, and thus would be able to hit his opponent with the sword coming out of the other side. Another is done from the typical sitting stance one would associate with seppuku, but can be followed up with him ripping his sword out of him and delivering a quick unblockable attack to his opponent. Needless to say, Yoshimitsu is one of the few characters with ways to heal himself, if only because he's also one of the few characters that can do so much damage to themselves.
And his Tekken-entering descendant Yoshimitsu continues the tradition with the standing suicide (which can be followed up by spinning like a spinning blade at your opponent—hits do 2 damage to both of you, while the actual stab does 60 to whoever's hit—especially you), and the Turning Suicide (dash in, turn, gut yourself for 100 points of damage)..and the Double Stab (after taking the earlier 100, take another—and you have 140 hit points to play with, at most).
In the old Commodore 64 game of Usagi Yojimbo, if the eponymous ronin's honor got below a certain point, he would commit suicide right there.
Done in Tales of Vesperia with Don Whitehorse, leader of the guild Altosk, after learning some bad information given to his grandson, Harry, resulted in the death of the Duce of Pallestralle and longtime friend and ally, Belius. The Cool Old Guy commits seppuku to balance things out and prevent a war between the two guilds. Yuri himself volunteers to be his kaishakunin.
In the original Tenchu, one of the missions involves executing a corrupt minister, but if the player is using the Rikimaru character, he will plead in a cinematic with the minister to take the honourable route and perform seppuku, which he will and Rikimaru will assist by decapitating him. If the player chooses the Ayame character however, she will insult and agitate the minister until he lashes out, resulting in a boss battle.
Occasionally crops up in games of Team Fortress 2 thanks to the Soldier's new suicide taunt: When a round ends, the losing team loses their weapons, granting free kills to any nearby winners. However, they can still taunt. Any Soldiers who had the Equalizer out at the time are liable to kill themselves to avoid adding another point to the opposing team, and occasionally manage to add a point to their own in the bargain (since taunt kills are alwaysfatal when they connect).
In Shadow Warrior (1997), the mutant ninja enemies sometimes point an uzi to their heads. The manual states that enemies will commit seppuku if "dishonored."
Sword Of The Samurai had this as an option if you were ever caught doing something horribly dishonorable, like attempting to assassinate a rival or plant false evidence against them. It would remove the stain on your family's honor, giving your son (who will be your next PC) a better chance.
In Gundam Extreme Vs., the Susanoo has a seppuku move much like Yoshimitsu's (above), where the machine turns around and stabs itself with its swords. It does big damage if an enemy is right behind, but whether or not it connects the Susanoo takes damage. Despite the fact that its pilot is American, he's also a huge Japanese culture Otaku, justifying the existence of this move.
Seppuku is treated as a fact of life in Hakuōki, given that it's a Visual Novel about the Shinsengumi. Harada Sanosuke has a scar across his abdomen from a failed attempt at it, and following the Choshu assault on the Imperial Palace, Hijikata takes a number of men in pursuit of the escaping leaders of the rebellion specifically with the intention of arresting them before they commit seppuku. And when the main characters learn that Kondou was beheaded rather than being allowed to commit seppuku, they're deeply distressed over it.
In Fallout: New Vegas, Arcade Gannon does this with a scalpel in the ending if you sell him to the Legion as a slave and Caesar survives. As Gannon is himself classically trained, he's probably doing it as a direct homage to Cato (mentioned in Real Life below) and for the same reasons.
In Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, Admiral Otomo turns out to be a Japanese Nationalist, and the plot of the game mostly centers around his attempt to make Japan an Imperial power again. So it is no surprise that when his plans go up in smoke, he attempts to commit seppuku. Sam manages to save his life (and shows quite a bit of respect towards the ritual while doing so, for that matter).
In Super Dangan Ronpa 2, Kuzuryuu Fuyuhiko attempts this in chapter three, when trying to make amends for his behaviour in the previous trial. His classmates are horrified and drag him to the hospital, where his wounds are seen to.
In Dead Rising 2, in the Dual Boss battle against Amber and Crystal Bailey, once you kill one of them, the other will curse you and then run herself through with a katana to join her sister in death.
In Total War Shogun 2, the leaders of defeated clans perform seppuku in the cinematic scenes.
Not exactly seppuku, but similar: Oggie and Maxim of Girl Genius once claimed that after having broken the solemn oath of the Jagerkin their only option was a "svift, painful, honourable death!" and attempted to slit each other's throats. It's unclear whether they actually meant it or were just kidding around (the overdramatic nature of the delivery suggests the latter), as they changed their minds as soon as Dimo pointed out that they hadn't been caught breaking the oath.
In Beast Wars, Dinobot once attempted seppuku but backed out at the last minute, allowing him to go on to his Heroic Sacrifice. While suicide was never overtly mentioned (this is a kid's show, after all), kneeling while holding your sword upside down towards your body and trembling in intense concentration is a bit hard to interpret any other way.
In Code Monkeys, after Gameavision breaks Protendo's one-day efficiency record, every Protendo employee still on the Gameavision premises simply pulls out a katana and rams it into their stomach, 22 in all. This also puts the final nail in the coffin of Mr. Larrity's plan to sell Gameavision off so the company can be liquidated.
Parodied in a Dexter's Laboratory episode dealing with a group of mute newspaper-throwing vandals with a "ninja" motif. In the end, one of them loses in a contest to actually deliver more papers than Dee Dee (final score: 1-0). In the aftermath, he is left alone with a newspaper. After his fellow jerks leave, he falls to his knees, stares at it, sweating, and swats himself in the head, knocking himself unconscious.
On Drawn Together, Ling-Ling commits Seppuku upon losing a game of Not-It to impregnate Toot.
In Family Guy when Brian and Stewie enter the universe when Japan conquered the world, Meg, being the Butt Monkey in every universe she's in, commits seppuku when Peter told her of being ugly and dishonorable.
Parodied at the end of the PopeyeWartime Cartoon, "You're a Sap, Mr. Jap" when the last remaining Japanese officer commits suicide by drinking gasoline and swallowing fire crackers.
South Park, in typical fashion, played with this rather irreverently when the Japanese Mr. Takayama moves to town and opens a restaurant next to City Wok (owned by the angry and stereotypically Chinese Mr. Lu Kim), sparking a rivalry. Lu Kim builds a "Tower of Peace", planning to lure his rival to the top and push him off, assuming he will get away with it because "Japanese people [are] always killing themselves". When he reveals this plan to Takayama while struggling atop the tower, Takayama angrily refuses to be associated with such a stereotype and overpowers him. However, when it is revealed that Lu Kim is actually one of several "split personalities" of a white man, Takayama realizes he has been duped and throws himself off the tower in shame.
In an episode of Futurama, Zoidberg is ridden with guilt after he breaks Professor Farnsworth's bottled ship and blames Fry. He attempts to kill himself by stabbing his chest with a katana but he just ends up bending it on his hard exoskeleton.
Saigo Takamori, after the Satsuma Rebellion. Though other historians say that he was fatally injured in battle and his supporters said he commited seppuku to protect his honor, complete with beheading his corpse and hiding his head.
Matsunaga Hisahide deserves some credit for perhaps the most spiteful seppuku in history. The man himself was Wicked Cultured and a notorious schemer—history credits him with several made-and-broken alliances with and against several contemporary warlords including Oda Nobunaga, and always in the name of self-interest. Finally fed up with the man's Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, Nobunaga eventually laid siege to Hisahide's Shigisan castle and demanded Hisahide's head as well as a priceless teapot owned by Hisahide as his price for ending the siege. Hisahide's response was to smash the teapot, commit seppuku, have his son sever then destroy his head, and finally blow up the castle. There are no historical records of Nobunaga's response to all this.
Azai Nagamasa and his father Hisamasa were also forced to commit seppuku, again due to a siege by Oda Nobunaga. While ostensibly allies of the Oda, Nobunaga declared war against the Azai's allied clan, the Asakura, and in spite of attempts to stay out of the fighting, the Azai ultimately fought against the Oda. Failing to decisively defeat them, Nobunaga besieged Odani Castle in revenge and both Nagamasa and Hisamasa committed seppuku rather than fight a hopeless battle.
In light of these events, it is almost karmic that Oda Nobunaga did this himself during the events of the Incident at Honno-ji. Akechi Mitsuhide led a coup at the Kyoto temple at dawn, with his own men vastly outnumbering Nobunaga and his smaller number of bodyguards. Seeing the writing on the wall, Nobunaga committed seppuku and his wakashuMori Ranmaru set the temple on fire as he had been ordered so as to prevent the body from falling into enemy hands. Ranmaru then followed his master in death by committing seppuku as well. Nobunaga's eldest son Nobutada was pursued to Azuchi Castle and also forced to commit seppuku when Akechi forces laid siege to the castle.
Not to mention the fact that, reportedly, some 500 Japanese generals successfully committed seppuku.
Admiral Onishi Takijiro, who came up with the bright idea of kamikaze planes, not only went through this but refused to use a kaishakunin for his seppuku after Japan surrendered. It took him some 15 hours of agony to die. The note he left apologized to all the pilots he'd sent to their deaths.
General Korechika Anami, one of the high officials who opposed the surrender, committed Seppuku on the morning Emperor Hirohito was to announce the surrender. This was realistically portrayed in the World War II documentary movie Hiroshima. He also left a suicide note which read:
My death, is my apology for my great crime.
During the Battle of Saipan, over 10,000 civilians committed ritual suicide under the direction of Hirohoto rather than be taken captive by U.S forces, this was so word would not get out that they had little to fear from the Americans and would be actually treated rather nicely as prisoners. Over 5000 Japanese soldiers stationed on the island also committed suicide.
Additionally, Admiral Chuuichi Nagumo (one of the men behind the Pearl Harbor Attack and also responsible for the Battle of Midway) shot himself in the head almost at the end of the invasion itself.
Aversion: General Kotoku Sato, who had the thankless task in the Burma offensive of 1944 to take Kohima without supplies and support from HQ, declined the opportunity to commit seppuku and insisted on a court-martial so that he could expose the incompetence of his superiors.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto wanted to do this when he learned of how the Pearl Harbour attack went off; the attack was supposed to happen after the delivery of a declaration of war so that it would not be a sneak attack. He was denied permission by his superiors, and ultimately died when his plane was taken down in Bouganiville.
Additionally, there was Nakano Seigo, the right-wing political leader who founded the ultra-nationalist group Touhoukai. Nakano commited seppuku in 1943 after not only losing his power struggles with the aforementioned Hideki Tojo, who wanted to expand the Empire despite Nakano's belief that it would bring unnecessary sacrifices to the country as a whole, but being banned from all kinds of media within Japan and being placed under house arrest.
Colonel Hiromichi Yahara, chief of staff to Mitsuru Ushijima during the Battle of Okinawa, reportedly asked Ushijima to commit seppuku with him, but Ushijima declined and forbade him from doing so, telling the colonel:
"If you die there will be no one left who knows the truth about the battle of Okinawa. Bear the temporary shame but endure it. This is an order from your army commander."
Ushijima himself, however, ended up commiting seppuku alongside Liutenant General Isamu Cho.
46 of the The 47 Ronin who staged a Gambit Roulette to punish an evil nobleman who forced their lord to commit seppuku went through this as well. Once they were done and explained their very complicated situation to the shogun note (they should have been executed by law for killing their enemy, but since they did it for the sake of their lord and not for personal motives, their Undying Loyalty couldn't just be ignored in a society where honor was everything), he allowed them to commit seppuku instead of being dishonorably executed; the Sole Survivor became a monk. Additionally, a man who had mocked one of the ronin in the past went to their graves and commited seppuku as an apology; he was buried next to them.
Idol SingerYukiko Okada, who threw herself off her music publisher's building in 1986, inspired both a wave of copycat suicides and the term "Yukiko Syndrome" to describe such copycats.
An American example: Budd Dwyer, Pennsylvania state treasurer, was charged with receiving kickbacks of $300,000. On January 22, 1987, the day before his sentencing, Dwyer called a press conference in which he put a .357 revolver in his mouth and shot himself. Before doing it, he said: "Please leave the room if this will offend you." His very last words were "Don't, don't, don't [try to stop me]. This will hurt someone."
While not involving Japan there are many examples of this from Roman society, the most famous being the suicides of the killers of Julius Caesar at the Battle of Phillipi (dramatized by Shakespeare) and the case of General Quintilius Varus falling on his sword during the defeat at the Battle of Teuteborg Wald. This cued Augustus' famous Big "NO!" response of, "Varus give me back my legions!"
Another Roman example, and one that is almost exactly like the Japanese example, would be the suicide of Marcus Porcius Cato after the disastrous defeat of the Republican forces at the Battle of Utica in 48 BC. After the loss, Cato feared being captured by Caesar... and then pardoned, therefore having to live the rest of his life in debt to the man he most loathed. He spent his last night reading Plato's Phaedo (a rumination on the immortality of the soul, supposedly a dialogue held by Socrates before his judicially-imposed suicide by hemlock), then plunged his shortsword into his gut. Slaves and friends were able to find him before he died, and tried to bind his wounds; but after they had left, Cato ripped out the bandages and stabbed himself again, this time succeeding in cheating Caesar's clemency. This scene features in Rome.
Roman nobles in general, in fact, were expected to commit suicide to avoid shame or to redress big wrongs. This is where the idiom to fall on one's sword ultimately originated. Also the Roman state, like many others, seized the property of convicted criminals. By killing oneself rather than being executed, a Roman could insure their family kept their wealth.
Possibly the most famous Roman to commit suicide in this manner was Lucretia, a semi-legendary Roman noblewoman, who (according to tradition) was raped by the debauched son of Lucius Tarquinis Superbus (a.k.a. Tarquin), the last King of Rome, and who, after going to the house of her father (one of the city's chief magistrates) and explaining what the prince had done, killed herself by stabbing herself in the heart with a concealed dagger to preserve her family's honour. The traditional story of the founding of the Roman Republic has this as the triggering event that led a number of Roman patricians, led by Lucius Junius Brutus, to overthrow Tarquin and establish the republic (with Brutusnote Yes, ancestor of the other one as one of the first two consuls).
A highly unusual form of suicide was chosen by German politican Jürgen Möllemann in 2003. He was well known for his love of parachuting, which he had frequently used for publicity in his election campaigns. He was just about to board a plane for a jump when he was informed that police was raiding his office and home on charges of corruption. Apparently he chose not to open his parachute...
There's a controlled cell death inducing gene in humans, actually called harakiri, it's protein hrk.
In 1985, when it came to light that the crash of Japan Airlines Flight 123 was the result of incorrectly executed repairs, a maintenance manager working for the company killed himself to apologize for the accident.
Swedish Nobel laureate Harry Martinsson killed himself this way. Using scissors.
Though the method was a cyanide capsule, the suicide of Erwin Rommel following the botched 20 July Plot to kill Adolf Hitler follows the trope. By taking his own life, he was able to preserve his honor, save the Wehrmacht the disgrace of having one of their top men executed as a traitor, and most importantly keep his family out of the hands of the People's Court, which was treating spouses and children as co-conspirators.
As mentioned in the Hakuōki example, Harada Sanosuke attempted seppuku as a defiant response to ridicule from a Matsuyama retainer who claimed he was a peon who wouldn't know how. He survived, suggesting that the retainer might have had a point, but seems to have come out the better for it; he subsequently adopted as his personal symbol the image of a circle with a horizontal line through it representing the scar that the attempt left behind.
During the filming of the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice, actress Mie Hama had severe problems in learning English, which threatened her chance to keep the role of the Bond Girl Aki and could potentially ruin her whole career. Hama then had an Heroic BSOD and threatened with commiting suicide if she was fired. The producers had her switch roles with the other Japanese actress in the cast, Akiko Wakabayashi, who already was fluent in English: Wakabayashi played Aki and Hama took the role of the other Bond Girl, Kissy Suzuki, which had less speaking lines.
An unusual variant occurred with Mitsuyasu Maeno. Maeno, a roman porno actor, was also a follower of the same ultra-right wing ideologies that Yukio Mishima espoused; However, while Mishima was an influence, his true idol was right-wing leader/gangster/war criminal Yoshio Kodama. When Maeno learned that Kodama was implicated in the Lockheed bribery scandals, Maeno was devastated, believing Kodama had betrayed the Japanese right-wing movement. He dressed up as a kamikaze pilot, arrived at Chofu Airport on March 23rd, 1976 along with several other actors for a film about kamikaze pilots. Maeno then got in his Piper Cherokee, flew to Kodama's home, circled it twice and drove the airplane straight into Kodama's home. The attack was being filmed by a second plane shooting film for the planned movie, and an amateur radio operator claimed he heard Maeno transmit a final radio message of "Sorry I haven't replied for a long time. Long live the Emperor!" A rare example of the trope where the person committing seppuku attempted to kill someone else at the same time, though Kodama survived and Maeno was the only fatality.
There has been quite the discussion on whether the death of Gracia Hosokawa, the daughter of Akechi Mitsuhide, counts as this. It took place when the Hosokawa household was about to be taken over by Ishida Mitsunari: Japanese sources said that Gracia ordered her retainer Shousai Ogasawara to kill her so she wouldn't be used as a hostage by Ishida, while Jesuit sources said that Ogasawara did it on his lord/Gracia's husband Tadaoki's orders rather than Gracia's but for basically the same reason. What is agreed upon is that Ogasawara himself and the rest of the household members did commit seppuku after setting the place in fire.