Seppuku is a Japanese form of theatrical suicide, with its origins during the Russo-Japanese War. In seppuku, a person impales his or herself in the stomach with some sort of sharp object, usually in a suitably dramatic manner. It is a form of suicide restricted to men and literally involves spilling your guts with a long cut to the belly.
However, with the advent of modern technology, methods of committing seppuku have become more and more complex.
The word Seppuku comes from the Japanese word sep, which means pain, and the Russian word puku which means a tale so glorious it must be passed through the ages.
Origins of Seppuku
The origins of seppuku can be found in Russian POW Camps during the 1905 Russo-Japanese War. In order to conserve space and time, both Japanese POWs and Russian guards ate together in the mess hall. Part of the Russian POW Guard culture during the evening meal was to get drunk on Vodka, and sing Rasputin, a song by the band Boney M., which was released in 1978.
After a while, this drunk singing caused severe emotional pain to Japanese POWs. After a few weeks, most of the prisoners would take their steak knives and stab themselves in the stomach several times, the first recorded instances of seppuku.
As the war continued, Russian troops gained more confidence in their singing skills, in part due to Leon Trotsky winning season 7 of American Idol. The soldiers would then sing their music so loudly and drunkenly, it roared across battlefields many kilometers away, drowning out the constant artillery shelling. Japanese soldiers would then commit suicide with their bayonets, which led to the modern cultural interpretation of the early 1900s that seppuku should be committed with a sword.
Overall, it is estimated that 78% of all Japanese casualties were due to Boney M. Surprisingly, only 45% of recorded seppukus were in POW camps, and drunk singing in POW camps was condemned post-WWI alongside the use of poison gas.
Seppuku in the Inter-war Era
"Gatsby believed in the sharp sword, the orgastic feeling of blood loss that second by second pours out of us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter--tomorrow we will sharpen our swords better, stretch out our arms farther....And one fine morning----So we beat on, bodies against the grain of steel, borne back ceaselessly into the pain." -Ending to The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald who didn't commit suicide but just drank a lot.
Part of the spread of seppuku was due to its popularity as a party game. People would take turns spinning a katana, or another long sharp object, and whoever the tip was pointed at would have to commit seppuku. After stabbing themselves, the person would have to put their medical skills to the test and attempt to heal the wound before they passed out and died from blood loss. Across the United States, it was the thing to do at parties, and in speakeasies. This was becoming more popular than one night stands, and women wearing dresses that showed off mild amounts of skin.
A similar trend as a party game happened in the Soviet Union, where it was a deeply divisive topic if seppuku or Russian Roulette was the party game of choice. Even cold hard nationals like Joseph Stalin felt as if this Japanese invention was the future. Although, due to the competition of Russian Roulette, seppuku never fully saw its full potential as a party game in the Soviet Union as it did in the United States.
In Europe, the rise of Facism also saw the rise of seppuku. Here, however, it was a political statement as opposed to fun and games. Nearly everywhere men like Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Francisco Franco held rallies, seppuku was also present and spread like wildfire. In Europe, committing seppuku was a statement of Nationalism, where someone shows their love for their country so much, they die for it. Although no physical documents were ever found, eyewitness testimony states that Mussolini was so paranoid that seppuku was killing off so many supporters of Fascism, it might be impossible to continue a fascist Italian state.