It is widely known that Japan has a tradition of ritual suicide – disembowelment committed using a knife or short sword, popularly known as hara-kiri (a vulgar term which is usually avoided by the Japanese) or, more properly, seppuku.
However, only members of the samurai class were allowed to commit seppuku. Therefore, women would commit jigaki or jigai (a general term for ritual suicide) by piercing their throat with a knife in such a way that the jugular vein would be severed in a single stroke.
Like their male counterparts, Japanese noblewomen were taught how to perform this act at a very young age. The main reasons a samurai’s wife would commit ritual suicide were if her husband committed seppuku or if he had brought dishonor to the family or community. Another possible motive was to avoid capture by the enemy.
The women were taught to tie their legs together or sit with their backs to a sturdy post before cutting their throats so their bodies would not fall sideways, which was considered an undignified position.
Another distinction of jigaki was that, unlike in the case of seppuku, no second (kaishakunin) was required to be present during the act.
One of the most famous Japanse noblewomen to commit ritual suicide was the wife of Onodera Junai, one of the famous 47 Ronin. Evidence of mass female ritual suicide in Japan exists from the 12th (after the Minamoto clan defeated the Tomomori in the Genpei War and established the Kamakura Shogunate) to the 20th centuries (when civilians – including many women – committed suicide after losing World War II).