While martial suicide is a practice found in a lot of cultures, the act of seppuku, or ritual self-disembowelment, is peculiar to Japan. The earliest known acts of seppuku were the deaths of samurai Minamoto Tametomo and poet Minamoto Yorimasa in the latter part of the 12th century. Seppuku is known in the west as hara-kiri. However, the term seppuku is considered a more elegant usage.
As the human spirit was believed to reside in the stomach, slitting the stomach open was considered to be the most straightforward, and bravest, way to die. Therefore, this act was a privilege reserved for the samurai. Commoners were allowed to hang or drown themselves, and samurai women could slit their own throats, but only a male samurai was allowed to commit seppuku.
Onodera Junai’s wife (one of the 47 ronin) preparing for jigai (female version of seppuku) to follow her husband in death : legs are bound as to maintain a decent posture in agony ; death is given by a tanto cut at the jugular vein. Kuniyoshi woodcut, Seichu gishin den series (“Story of truthful hearts”), 1848. (Public Domain)