Beheadings was a common punishment in Japan and the offence didn’t even have to be a major one to receive such a sentence. The practice is also associated with the samurai, who were often permitted to decapitate soldiers who had fled from battle. To leave your fellow warriors was considered cowardly and needed to be dealt with accordingly.
In historical terms, decapitation was the second step in a ritual suicide that involved disembowelment. Seppuku was originally set aside for samurai, as part of their honor code. A samurai would voluntarily choose this method of death to parish with honor rather than die at the hands of their enemies (and most likely face torture). The samurai were also subjected to seppuku as a form of capital punishment if they committed a serious offense.
When the disembowelment was performed, it took on the form of a ceremony that was part of a more elaborate ritual that occurred in front of spectators. The participant would plunge a short blade into the stomach and move the blade from left to right in a slicing motion.
Sometimes, when a victim had his own abdomen sliced open, another warrior would strike the head off from behind using a traditional samurai sword called a katana, which was meant to quicken their death and lessen the suffering they felt. Precision was a must because the blow was expected to leave a small strip of skin at the front of the neck intact. This was to prevent invited and honored guests the horror of seeing a severed head rolling around the ground. Skill was needed to perform this practice and only the most trusted warrior was allowed to participate.
In Japan, a severe and degrading form of punishment was considered decapitation without seppuku. In 1570, for his role in the attempt to assassinate Oda Nobunaga, Sugitani Zenjubo became known as the man who was subjected to a rather brutal decapitation. When he was finally caught, Zenjubo was buried alive in the ground with only his head out sticking out. Over the course of several days, his head was slowly sawed off using a saw made out of bamboo. The act was carried out by those that passed by throughout the day. Called nokogiribiki, this punishment involving the sawing of the head was abolished in the early Meiji era.
Victims of Beheadings in Japan
In Japan, the following notable people died as a result of losing their head:
”¢ Ishida Mitsunari , daimyo (powerful territorial lord) and general that lived around 1600. He was beheaded in Kyoto after the Battle of Sekigahara.
”¢ Ankokuji Ekai , Buddhist monk and ally of Mitsunari, who was beheaded in Kyoto after the Battle of Sekigahara.
”¢ Konishi Yukinaga , As an ally of Mitsunari, he was beheaded in Kyoto after the Battle of Sekigahara.
”¢ Asano Naganori , lord of the 47 Ronin was ordered to commit seppuku followed by beheading in 1701.
”¢ Kondo Isami , As the commander of the Shinesengumi, he was executed at Itabashi in 1868.