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Kaishakunin

Kaishakunin

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A kaishakunin is an appointed second whose duty is to behead one who has committed seppuku
Seppuku
is a form of Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment. Seppuku was originally reserved only for samurai. Part of the samurai bushido honor code, seppuku was either used voluntarily by samurai to die with honor rather than fall into the hands of their enemies , or as a form of capital punishment...

, Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

ese ritual suicide
Suicide
Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one's own death. Suicide is often committed out of despair or attributed to some underlying mental disorder, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcoholism, or drug abuse...

, at the moment of agony. The role played by the kaishakunin is called kaishaku (nin means person).

Aside from the purpose of being spared prolonged anguish until death, both the condemned and those on hand to observe are spared the spectacle of the writhing death throes that would ensue. The use of a kaishakunin is normally reserved for one who is performing the deed out of honor, rather than in disgrace. For example, a warlord
Warlord
A warlord is a person with power who has both military and civil control over a subnational area due to armed forces loyal to the warlord and not to a central authority. The term can also mean one who espouses the ideal that war is necessary, and has the means and authority to engage in war...

 who is defeated in battle and has chosen to commit seppuku might be appointed a second so that he may die respectably, as opposed to a samurai who has been ordered to die for some crime, or for having disgraced his clan
Japanese clans
This is a list of Japanese clans. The ancient clans mentioned in the Nihonshoki and Kojiki lost their political power before the Heian period. Instead of gozoku, new aristocracies, Kuge families emerged in the period...

 through dishonorable deeds.

The most recent kaishakunin of the 20th century was Hiroyasu Koga
Hiroyasu Koga
Hiroyasu Koga is a former Tatenokai member and kaishakunin responsible for the decapitations of Yukio Mishima and Masakatsu Morita during their seppuku on November 25, 1970...

, who beheaded the novelist Yukio Mishima
Yukio Mishima
was the pen name of , a Japanese author, poet, playwright, actor and film director, also remembered for his ritual suicide by seppuku after a failed coup d'état...

 during Mishima's seppuku.

The ritual


Still preserved in modern-day movements (kata
Kata
is a Japanese word describing detailed choreographed patterns of movements practised either solo or in pairs. The term form is used for the corresponding concept in non-Japanese martial arts in general....

) of the martial art, Iaido
Iaido
is a modern Japanese martial art associated with the smooth, controlled movements of drawing the sword from its scabbard, striking or cutting an opponent, removing blood from the blade, and then replacing the sword in the scabbard...

, the ritual of performing kaishaku varies very little between Japanese fencing schools, but all of them are bound to the following steps to be performed by the kaishakunin:
  1. First, the kaishakunin sits down in the upright (seiza
    Seiza
    Seiza is the Japanese term for the traditional formal way of sitting in Japan.- Form :To sit seiza-style, one first kneels on the floor, folding one's legs underneath one's thighs, while resting the buttocks on the heels...

    ) position, or remains standing, at the left side of the person about to commit seppuku, at a prudent distance but close enough to be reached with his sword (katana
    Katana
    A Japanese sword, or , is one of the traditional bladed weapons of Japan. There are several types of Japanese swords, according to size, field of application and method of manufacture.-Description:...

    ) at the appropriate time.
  2. If seated, the kaishakunin will rise slowly, first on his knees, then stepping with the right foot while drawing the katana very slowly and silently and standing up in the same fashion (keeping in mind that the opponent (teki) is not an enemy, but rather a fellow samurai). If the kaishakunin was from a standing stance, he will draw his sword slowly and silently as well. In both cases, after the sword is out of the scabbard (saya), he will raise it with the right hand and wait for the seppuku to begin. Some classic (koryū
    Koryu
    is a Japanese word that is used in association with the ancient Japanese martial arts. This word literally translates as "old school" or "traditional school"...

    ) Iaido styles, like the Musō Jikiden Eishin-ryū
    Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu
    , is a koryū sword art, and one of the most widely practiced schools of iaijutsu in the world. Often referred to simply as "Eishin-ryū," it claims an unbroken lineage dating back to the sixteenth century....

     school, establishes this "waiting stance" as the kaishakunin having taken one step back with the right foot, katana behind his head parallel to the floor held with the right hand, left hand holding the scabbard in the proper (sayabiki) position; other styles, like Musō Shinden-ryū
    Muso Shinden-ryu
    is a iaijutsu koryū founded by Nakayama Hakudō , last sōke of the Shimomura branch of Hasegawa Eishin-ryū. The term "iaidō" appeared in 1932 and was popularized by Nakayama Hakudō .-Particularities:...

    , establishes that the katana is to be held vertically, parallel to the body, held in the right hand, the left hand resting at the kaishakunin side, feet together. In any case, the kaishakunin will always keep eye contact with the samurai performing seppuku, and waiting for his cut (kiri) through his abdomen (hara).
  3. When the samurai actually performs the seppuku, and after he returns the dagger (tantō
    Tanto
    A is one of the traditional Japanese swords that were worn by the samurai class of feudal Japan. The tantō dates to the Heian period, when it was mainly used as a weapon but evolved in design over the years to become more ornate...

    ) blade back to the cut beginning, the kaishakunin steps forward, letting the katana drop straight through the back of the neck of the dying samurai. Just before making contact, the kaishakunin grips the handle (tsuka) with both hands, giving precision to the katanas blade and strength to the downward cut (kiritsuke). Only the samurai that were invited to perform seppuku in order to preserve their honor were allowed to have a kaishakunin to assist. Samurai committing seppuku for criminal actions were not allowed an assistant. The final cut has to be controlled in order for the initial cut to reach only half the neck of the samurai; the final cut, leaving the required skin to hold the head attached to the samurai's body, was performed by a single slashing/withdrawing motion of the katana. The complete cut-slash-withdraw motion is called daki-kubi.


After the dead samurai falls, the kaishakunin, with the same slow, silent style used when unsheathing the katana, shakes the blood off the blade (a movement called chiburi
Chiburi
, also called chiburi , is the process by which one symbolically removes blood from a sword blade. The term chiburui can thus be translated as "shaking off the blood". In the Japanese martial art of iaidō, this is done before placing the blade back into the scabbard ....

) and returns the katana to the scabbard (a movement called noto), while kneeling towards the fellow samurai's dead body. When this is completed, the kaishakunin remains kneeling for a while, as a sign of deep respect to the fallen samurai who committed the ritual suicide, always in a state of "total awareness" (zanshin
Zanshin
Zanshin is a term used in the Japanese martial arts. It refers to a state of awareness – of relaxed alertness. The literal translation of zanshin is "remaining mind"....

) before standing up and bowing (rei
Rei
-People:*Rei, the Biblical term for those who retained their allegiance to King David when Adonijah rebelled, as mentioned in 1 Kings 1:8*Rei Hiroe*Rei Igarashi*Rei Kawakubo*Rei Kikukawa*Rei Mikamoto*Rei Munakata*Rei Okamoto*Rei Omishi...

) to his body.

Role as executioner


In some seppuku rituals, no disembowelment occurs. The condemned person merely moves the dagger, or, sometimes, a wooden stick or fan, across his or her stomach, followed by a beheading by the kaishakunin. In this variation, the kaishakunin becomes in effect the executioner, and seppuku becomes in effect a beheading.

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