The concept of Bushido, the Way of the Warrior, probably began sometime in the 7th century in Japan. The idea of a warrior poet was conveyed in Japan’s oldest existing book, the Kojiki. However, it was not until late in the Muromachi period (1336-1573) the term actually appeared in texts. During this period there is an abundance of literary references to Bushido ideals.
Loyalty to ones master, filial piety, and reverence to the Emperor were all common concepts in early Bushido writings. These concepts clearly show the influence of Confucianism on Bushido philosophy. Samurai were expected to be fair, polite, calm and always learning to better themselves as samurai. In the Bushido philosophy the ultimate goaled for a samurai is finding an honorable death in battle.
Failing to abide by the Bushido code would bring dishonor upon a samurai and their family. Sometimes a shamed samurai would be allowed to commit seppuku, or ritual suicide, by his master. Samurai who had shamed themselves would need to request permission to commit seppuku as it was considered an honorable death. Seppuku was also used by samurai as an honorable alternative to being captured by enemies.
Samurai were usually washed and dressed in white robes in preparation for seppuku. It was also common practice to compose a “death poem” which would likely be prepared in advance. The samurai would then sit down in front of a prepared knife, called a tanto. To facilitate the act a kaishakunin, or attendant often referred to as a “second”, would be present with a long sword. After the samurai plunged the tanto into the abdomen, the kaishakunin would then proceed to decapitate the dying samurai.
In the west the term “hari kari” is often mistakenly used to describe seppuku. This term originates from the Japanese word, “harakiri” which literally translates to “stomach cut”. It is a reverse of the kanji characters used in seppuku (lit. cut stomach). Seppuku is considered more formal and is typically used in writing while harakiri (not hari kari) is used in speech.