The Japanese sword stands out as a premier weapon of power and legendary work of art in both appearance and manufacture; made by pattern wielding or folding. The Japanese swords have become known worldwide as a ‘must-have’ for any weapon or sword aficionado. A Tanto knife may look like simply as one of the wide variety of Japanese short swords or dagger in our present time. Let’s turn back time to find out the ritual use of Tantō.
Way back in the period of 1192 to 1868, Seppuku was an integral part of feudal Japan. Seppuku is a formal term for ritual suicide in Japanese. It could also be called Hara-kiri, used as a common language term. It was developed as an important part of the code of discipline for bushido, a code of the samurai warrior class. Seppuku entails stomach-cutting disembowelment or removal of some or all of the vital organs found in the abdomen of a samurai.
In samurai history, all samurais deeply regards honor dearer than life. When disgrace befalls a samurai, self destruction wasn’t only considered simply as right but as the only correct decision to make. A samurai resorts to hara-kiri or seppuku for the atonement of disgrace and defeat. When the samurai has ended his life, his loyal followers might express their grief and affection for their master by it. Seppuku is a practical solution when a samurai shows contempt for an enemy, protest against injustice, as a way to get their lord to revoke an unworthy action and as a means to save others. In the eyes and judgment of a samurai, Seppuku, regardless whether ordered as punishment or chosen in preference to a dishonorable death at the hands of the enemy, was an acknowledged display of their courage, loyalty, moral character and honor.
The Seppuku Ritual
The Tantō is another kind of Japanese short sword with a traditional overall length of 11.93 inches or about 30 cm. The blade is 5 inches to 12 inches long. This samurai weapon was a weapon with a single-edged blade and a curved blade. It is efficiently reliable for extremely close fighting as well as for a ritual called Seppuku. The Tanto was the perfect choice as an instrument for Seppuku. In this detailed ritual, seppuku was usually performed in front of spectators. A samurai was bathed and dressed in white robes, ate his favorite meal and after he’s done eating, the Tanto was placed on the same plate. The samurai dressed ceremonially sometimes seated on special cloths, prepares for his death by writing a death poem. Standing beside him is his selected attendant (kaishakunin), the samurai would open his kimono, take up his Tantō or Japanese knife and plunge it into his abdomen and make a left to right cut. The kaishakunin then performs dakukubi or a cut in which the warrior was all but intentionally decapitated or having his head cut off. Such task should be carried out with precision requiring the kaishakunin often to be a skilled swordsman. It is usually agreed in advance that the kaishakunin swiftly do the decapitation as soon as the dagger was plunged deep into the abdomen.
Seppuku in Modern Japan
The year of 1873 marked the time when Seppuku as judicial punishment was officially abolished shortly after the Meiji Restoration. However, voluntary seppuku did not completely fade away in samurai history. Some military men used Seppuku as a protest against the return of a conquered territory to China by General Nogi and his wife on the death of Emperor Meiji in 1912. Thousands of soldiers and civilians chose to die rather than surrender at the end of World War II. Famed author Yukio Mishima and one of his followers committed public Seppuku at the Japan Self-Defense Forces headquarters after a failed attempt to list the armed forces to stage a coup d’etat. Mishima committed Seppuku in the office of General Kanetoshi. His attendant is Masakatsu Morita who tried thrice to ritually behead Mishima but failed. Hiroyasu Koga finally accomplished to behead Mishima. After this fatal ritual, Morita then tried to commit Seppuku on himself but his own cuts were not enough to be deadly. He gave the signal to Koga and was beheaded by the same person.
Despite the abolishment of Seppuku in modern Japan, there are isolated suicide cases committed by some Japanese for failed businesses, involvement in love triangles or even failing school examinations. Death is still regarded by many as a better end than dishonor and disgrace.