During the Ashikaga period-the first familial period of the so-called Feudal Age of Japanese history-the bushi gradually rose in status to eventually take power from the Japanese court. Under these bushi served many samurai: warriors who harbored a severe scorn for the easy life of the court families. This was no more apparent than their form of ritual suicide: seppuku.

Seppuku (pronounced sep POO koo) is essentially ritualistic disembowelment. To commit seppuku, one would plunge a dagger into the side of one's abdomen and slowly draw the blade across. Of all the conceivable ways to end ones own life, this is perhaps the most painful way it can be accomplished.

This ritual is part of the way of the samurai, which honored loyalty and fearlessness. A samurai was obligated to end his life when his he was disgraced, and Seppuku was seen as a way to do this with extreme honor.

When this ritual was performed, a samurai was expected to remain stone-faced and not utter a sound. If he did break his composure, however, a buddy—the kaishaku—would be standing over him with his sword drawn; prepared to neatly sever his friend's head from its body in order to retain the samurai's honor and dignity.

This suicide ritual is also known as hara-kiri. Both seppuku and hara-kiri use the same kanji. In seppuku, the kanji for cut/cutoff comes before the kanji for belly; in hara-kiri they are reversed. Both translate into "belly slicing" or "belly splitting." The difference is seppuku carries dignified connotation; hara-kiri is a slang term and was considered vulgar by the samurai.

Thanks to Shro0m for the infomation on the kanji forms of seppuku and hara-kiri.