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Seppuku vs. Harakiri — What's the Difference?

Edited by Tayyaba Rehman — By Fiza Rafique — Updated on March 21, 2024
Seppuku is a ritualized suicide, while harakiri is its informal term, both rooted in Japanese samurai tradition.
Seppuku vs. Harakiri — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Seppuku and Harakiri


Key Differences

Seppuku, a term deeply embedded in Japanese samurai honor codes, refers to a highly ritualized form of suicide that involves disembowelment. This act was historically performed voluntarily by samurai to restore or protect honor for themselves or their families. On the other hand, harakiri, often used interchangeably with seppuku, is the more colloquial term in Japanese, literally meaning "belly cutting." While it describes the same act, harakiri is considered less formal and is more commonly used in casual or Western contexts.
Seppuku was traditionally carried out with precision and involved a series of rituals, including a final meal, the writing of a death poem, and the ceremonial attire. The act itself was usually performed in front of spectators. Harakiri, while referring to the same act of suicide by disembowelment, often lacks the emphasis on the ceremonial aspects and might be perceived as focusing more on the method of suicide rather than the ritualistic and honor-bound context of seppuku.
In historical and cultural contexts, seppuku is regarded with a degree of solemnity and respect for the samurai's dedication to honor and duty. In contrast, the term harakiri, despite describing the same act, may not always carry the same depth of cultural and historical reverence, possibly due to its more informal use and pronunciation.
The practice of seppuku has been depicted in various forms of literature, art, and cinema, often highlighting the ceremony and gravity of the act. Harakiri, while also represented in cultural works, might be presented with less emphasis on the ritualistic elements, sometimes focusing more on the act itself or the individual's despair leading to the decision.
Despite the differences in connotation and usage, both terms reflect a complex aspect of Japanese culture and history, embodying themes of honor, duty, and the samurai's way of life. Whether referred to as seppuku or harakiri, the act remains a poignant symbol of the samurai's commitment to their code of conduct.

Comparison Chart

Term Origin

Formal, historical
Informal, colloquial


Ritual suicide by samurai for honor
Same act, less emphasis on ritual


Solemn, respectful
Less formal, more focused on method

Cultural Depth

Deeply tied to samurai honor and rituals
Same act, possibly less cultural reverence


Often depicted with full ceremonial elements
May focus more on the act or individual despair

Compare with Definitions


A form of ritual suicide by disembowelment, part of the Japanese samurai honor code.
The disgraced samurai chose seppuku to restore his family's honor.


The informal term for seppuku, referring to the act of self-disembowelment to restore honor.
Facing inevitable capture, he committed harakiri to avoid dishonor.


A ceremonial suicide involving detailed rituals, historically practiced by samurai.
He performed seppuku, adhering to the ancient rituals passed down through generations.


Used more commonly in casual or Western contexts to describe the act of seppuku.
The novel described the protagonist's harakiri, using the term familiar to its Western audience.


An honorable suicide method, emphasizing dignity and the samurai's commitment to duty.
Seppuku was considered a dignified end for a samurai facing dishonor.


Though it refers to the same act, harakiri may not always evoke the full cultural and ceremonial implications of seppuku.
The documentary touched on harakiri, but didn't delve into the deep rituals that seppuku entails.


A ritual that included writing a death poem, signifying the samurai's final farewell.
Before his seppuku, he composed a death poem, reflecting on the impermanence of life.


A colloquial expression for the same ritual suicide practiced by samurai, focusing on the physical act.
Harakiri, though less formal, conveys the same tragic resolve as seppuku.


A practice embedded in the Japanese cultural and historical context, symbolizing ultimate loyalty.
The act of seppuku in the tale underscored the samurai's unwavering loyalty to his lord.


Sometimes perceived as less solemn or respectful than seppuku, due to its informal usage.
In discussing the samurai's end, he referred to it as harakiri, unaware of the term's less formal connotation.


Seppuku (Japanese: 切腹, "cutting [the] belly"), sometimes referred to as Harakiri (腹切り, "abdomen/belly cutting", a native Japanese kun reading), is a form of Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment. It was originally reserved for samurai in their code of honor but was also practiced by other Japanese people during the Shōwa period (particularly officers near the end of World War II) to restore honor for themselves or for their families.


Alternative spelling of hara-kiri


Ritual suicide by disembowelment formerly practiced by Japanese samurai. Also called hara-kiri.


A ritual form of suicide, by slashing the abdomen, formerly practiced in Japan, and commanded by the government in the cases of disgraced officials; disembowelment; - also written, but incorrectly, hari-kari.


A form of ritual suicide by disembowelment using a blade, practiced by Japanese samurai, especially to rid oneself of shame, as a means of protest, or, formerly, as a method of capital punishment.


Ritual suicide by self-disembowelment on a sword; practiced by warriors in the traditional Japanese society


Same as Hara-kiri.
Seppuku, or hara-kiri, also came into vogue.

Common Curiosities

Can harakiri be performed without the ceremonial aspects of seppuku?

While harakiri refers to the same act of suicide by disembowelment, it may not always include the full range of ceremonial aspects typical of seppuku.

Is harakiri considered disrespectful?

Harakiri is not necessarily disrespectful, but it is less formal and may not carry the same depth of cultural and historical reverence as seppuku.

What is the main difference between seppuku and harakiri?

The main difference lies in formality and context; seppuku is the formal, ritualized term, while harakiri is informal and colloquial, though both describe the same act of ritual suicide by samurai.

Why did samurai choose seppuku?

Samurai chose seppuku as a way to restore or protect their honor and that of their families, often in the face of dishonor or defeat, adhering to their strict code of conduct.

How is seppuku represented in Japanese culture?

Seppuku is represented with solemnity and respect in Japanese culture, often depicted in literature and art as a symbol of the samurai's dedication to honor and duty.

How did Western cultures learn about seppuku and harakiri?

Western cultures learned about seppuku and harakiri through historical accounts, literature, and interactions with Japan, often using harakiri as the more familiar term.

What would lead a samurai to commit seppuku instead of facing defeat?

A samurai might commit seppuku to avoid the dishonor of defeat or capture, maintaining their honor and that of their family according to their code.

Is seppuku still practiced today?

Seppuku is not practiced today as it was in the samurai era, but its historical and cultural significance remains a topic of interest and study.

Were there any women in Japanese history who committed seppuku?

While seppuku was primarily a male samurai practice, there are historical instances of Japanese women committing similar acts for honor, known as "jigai."

Did samurai perform seppuku voluntarily?

Seppuku was usually a voluntary act, driven by the samurai's sense of honor, though in some cases it could be ordered as a form of capital punishment.

How did spectators react to witnessing a seppuku ceremony?

Spectators, often samurai peers or lords, were expected to watch the seppuku ceremony with respect and solemnity, recognizing it as an honorable act.

Is there a specific location where seppuku had to be performed?

Seppuku was often performed in a designated place, such as a temple or a castle, where the ritual could be conducted with the proper solemnity and witnesses.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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