Seppuku is a Japanese suicide ritual by disembowelment that was often used by Samurai to attenuate shame or avoid being captured.

The ritual traditionally involves a "second" who would perform a kaishaku - a cut in which the warrior is decapitated.

There are many examples of this ritual even in modern Japan.

In modern Japan if such a ritual involves the traditional "second" performing the kaishaku, is this treated as a murder where the "second" could be charged, or is death treated as a suicide?

  • 1
    It is not only "murder or free". Being accessory to suicide is a criminal offense in many countries, too.
    – SJuan76
    Dec 17, 2016 at 14:08
  • @SJuan76 good point. Would beheading someone be classed as being an "accessory to suicide" though or murder?
    – Kenshin
    Dec 17, 2016 at 14:31
  • Presumably seppuku isn't guaranteed to cause death, correct? E.g., if someone attempts it they may survive (probably with adequate and timely medical attention)? In that case, the death of someone who is decapitated would always be classified as homicide, since not only is the person alive when struck by the second but also is capable of surviving his self-inflicted wounds.
    – feetwet
    Dec 17, 2016 at 18:12

1 Answer 1


A high profile example of modern seppuku was Yukio Mishima in 1970. His second failed to behead him and committed seppuku too, with both being beheaded by Hiroyasu Koga.

A contemporary newspaper article (Sarasota Journal - Jan 6, 1971, "Suicidal Author in 'Hero' Status") noted that, in addition to being charged with crimes as a revolutionary, Koga was charged with "murder by request" (a.k.a. assisting suicide), along with two others present as accomplices.

The crime against Koga is that of "murder by request" or "assisting suicide." And, according to precedent, those guilty of "murder by request" receive lighter sentences than those convicted of first-degree murder. Will Koga thus receive a lenient sentence because he merely assisted in another's suicide?

Actually, all three survivors will be tried on the charge of "murder by request" on the assumption that all were accomplices to the series of criminal acts on the day of Mishima's death, which include assault, wounding several SDF officials, forcing officials to act, and unlawful incarceration.

It seems the sentence was indeed light. Koga was sentenced to four years penal servitude, but was released a few months early for good behavior.

As far as I can tell, there have not been any challenges to the law since.

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