Seppuku (literally meaning "belly cutting") is a form of suicide practiced by Japanese samurai to avoid being captured or to restore one's honor. It involves the samurai using a short knife or his tanto and cutting his abdomen in one of several ways that ammounted to three cuts so as to open his abdomen. The process was thought to demonstrate to onlookers that the man was not a dishonorable man because the gut is to Japanese cultural belief as the heart is to Western belief; as Westerners may talk about someone having a black heart, the Japanese would talk about someone having a black belly.
The ceremony was performed with a "kaishaku" or second. This person was usually someone close to the man committing seppuku and their responsibility was to cut off the head of the first person after at least one cut was made. It was to spare them the pain and prolonged agonizing death of opening the intestines after having proved they had the courage to mortally wound themselves.
In recent years the most notable person to commit suicide in this manner was the novelist and ultra-nationalist Yukio Mishima, who chose seppuku after a failed comic-opera coup, in which he had kidnapped the Japanese Minister of Defence.