Tales of Old Japan eBook

Algernon Freeman-Mitford, 1st Baron Redesdale
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 405 pages of information about Tales of Old Japan.

When a Samurai has to perform hara-kiri by the command of his own feudal lord, the ceremony should take place in one of the lesser palaces of the clan.  Once upon a time, a certain prince of the Inouye clan, having a just cause of offence against his steward, who was called Ishikawa Tozayemon, and wishing to punish him, caused him to be killed in his principal palace at Kandabashi, in Yedo.  When this matter was reported to the Shogun, having been convicted of disrespect of the privileges of the city, he was ordered to remove to his lesser palace at Asakusa.  Now, although the hara-kiri cannot be called properly an execution, still, as it only differs from an ordinary execution in that by it the honour of the Samurai is not affected, it is only a question of degree; it is a matter of ceremonial.  If the principal palace[107] is a long distance from the Shogun’s castle, then the hara-kiri may take place there; but there can be no objection whatever to its taking place in a minor palace.  Nowadays, when a man is condemned to hara-kiri by a Daimio, the ceremony usually takes place in one of the lesser palaces; the place commonly selected is an open space near the horse-exercising ground, and the preparations which I have described above are often shortened according to circumstances.

[Footnote 107:  The principal yashikis (palaces) of the nobles are for the most part immediately round the Shogun’s castle, in the enclosure known as the official quarter.  Their proximity to the palace forbids their being made the scenes of executions.]

When a retainer is suddenly ordered to perform hara-kiri during a journey, a temple or shrine should be hired for the occasion.  On these hurried occasions, coarse mats, faced with finer matting or common mats, may be used.  If the criminal is of rank to have an armour-bearer, a carpet of skin should be spread, should one be easily procurable.  The straps of the skin (which are at the head) should, according to old custom, be to the front, so that the fur may point backwards.  In old days, when the ceremony took place in a garden, a carpet of skin was spread.  To hire a temple for the purpose of causing a man to perform hara-kiri was of frequent occurrence:  it is doubtful whether it may be done at the present time.  This sort of question should be referred beforehand to some competent person, that the course to be adopted may be clearly understood.

In the period Kambun (A.D. 1661-1673) a Prince Sakai, travelling through the Bishiu territory, hired a temple or shrine for one of his retainers to disembowel himself in; and so the affair was concluded.

ON THE CEREMONIES OBSERVED AT THE HARA-KIRI OF A PERSON GIVEN IN CHARGE TO A DAIMIO.

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Tales of Old Japan from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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