The Samurai - Soldiers of Altruism
They despised all material enterprise and gain, and refused to lend, borrow or count money; they seldom broke a promise, and they risked their lives readily for anyone who appealed to them for just aid. They made a principle of hard and frugal living; they limited themselves to one meal a day, and accustomed themselves to eat any food that came to hand, and to hold it. They bore all suffering silently, and suppressed every display of emotion; their women were taught to rejoice when informed that their husbands had been killed on the battlefield. They recognized no obligation except that of loyalty to their superiors; this was, in their code, a higher law than parental or filial love. It was a common thing for a Samurai to disembowel himself on the death of his lord, in order to serve and protect him in the other world. When the Shogun Iyemitsu was dying in 1651 he reminded his prime minister, Hotto, of this duty of junshi, or "following in death"; Hotto killed himself without a word, and several subordinates imitated him. When the Emperor Mutsuhito went to his ancestors in 1912 General Nogi and his wife committed suicide in loyalty to him. Not even the traditions of Rome's finest soldiers bred greater courage, asceticism and self-control than were demanded by the code of the Samurai.
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The final law of Bushido was hara-kiri - suicide by disembowelment. The occasions when this would be expected of a Samurai were almost beyond count, and the practice of it so frequent that little notice was taken of it. If a man of rank had been condemned to death he was allowed, as an expression of the emperor's esteem, to cut through his abdomen from left to right and then down to the pelvis with the small sword which he always carried for this purpose. If he had been defeated in battle, or had been compelled to surrender, he was as like as not to rip open his belly. (Hara-kiri means belly-cutting; it is a vulgar word seldom used by the Japanese, who prefer to call it seppuku.) When, in 1895, Japan yielded to European pressure and abandoned Liaotung, forty military men committed hara-kiri in protest. During the war of 1905 many officers and men in the Japanese navy killed themselves rather than be captured by the Russians. If his superior did something offensive to him, the good Samurai might gash himself to death at his master's gate. The art of seppuku - the precise ritual of ripping - was one of the first items in the education of Samurai youth; and the last tribute of affection that could be paid to a friend was to stand by him and cut off his head as soon as he had carved his paunch. Out of this training, and the traditions bound up with it, has come some part of the Japanese soldier's comparative fearlessness of death.
- Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage, pg. 847-848