Seppuku should never be considered suicide, and similarly kaishaku should never be regarded as murder: both are rituals of bushido. Seppuku was committed only by warriors-commoners were deemed unworthy. There were several circumstances under which seppuku was carried out. One was to take personal responsibility for a grave error. A samurai would also commit seppuku if his lord commanded him to do so. A further reason would be to take responsibility for someone else’s crime or error. In many cases, however, seppuku was carried out in combat when defeat was unavoid­able or had already occurred. A samurai could also commit seppuku after losing in battle to ensure that lhe lives of his wife, children, and retainers would be spared.

Kaishaku was performed to assist the warrior committing seppuku. There were two types of kaishaku. The first was done to a samurai who had committed a crime: his head would be cut off completely. The second was done to a samu­rai who had not dishonored his status: a small section of skin at the front of his neck was left intact, so that his head would roll forward onto his arms while remaining attached to his neck, thus presenting his dignity. This was called “kakac-kubi.”

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