Voluntary Death in Japan

Voluntary Death in Japan

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For most Western observers, the Japanese practice of voluntary death, whether the self-inflicted sword-stroke of a warrior or the simultaneous suicide of lovers, is shocking and difficult to understand. The practice of voluntary death is deeply alien to Western Culture and to the Christian view that God alone is entrusted with power over life and death. In Japan, however,a tradition of voluntary death has existed for more than a millenium. The suicides of samurai warriors, of kamikaze fighter pilots, of artists and lovers are part of a tradition which stretches back over many centuries and which expresses a distinctive way of relating to death. In this profound and sensitive study, Maurice Pinguet carefully reconstructs this tradition of voluntary death and relates it to other aspects of Japanese culture and society. He shows that, in early Japanese myths and legends, acts of self-immolation were often exalted as an ideal. A self-effacing suicide was viewed as an ethical act: a way of restoring order in a world disrupted by conflict or marred by failure. Pinguet examines in detail the customs and elaborate rituals which surrounded the practice of voluntary death in different times and among different groups, from the seppuka practised by warriors in the thirteenth century to the suicide of Mishima in the twentieth. The result is a brilliant and absorbing analysis of Japanese culture and society - an analysis which, by focusing on a practice that is radically different from our own, tells us something about Western civilization as well.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 340 pages
  • 152 x 229 x 31.75mm | 673g
  • Polity Press
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 0745608701
  • 9780745608709

About Maurice Pinguet

Maurice Pinguet was born in France in 1929 and taught at the Sorbonne, The University of Paris VII and the University of Tokyo. He was the Director of the Franco-Japanese Institute in Tokyo from 1964 to 1968. A friend and close associate of Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault, he was widely regarded in France and elsewhere as a leading authority on Japanese culture and civilization. He died in 1991.show more

Table of contents

List of Illustrations 1. Cato's Harakiri 2. The Arithmetic of Suicide 3. Towards a Theory of Suicide 4. Suicide as Sympton 5. The Dawn of History 6. Violence at a Distance 7. The Martial Art of Dying Well 8. Giving up the Body 9. The Theatre of Cruelty 10. Love and Death 11. The Tradition of Sacrifice 12. Into the Abyss 13. Some Nihilist Vignettes 14. Mishima: The Last Act Notes Glossary of Japanese Teerms.show more

Review quote

"A rapt, learned, historical disquistion on the idealised suicide." Sunday Telegraph . "One of the finest works by the late Maurice Pinguet. Admirable and necessary book." The Japan Times . "Pinguet's focus on the samurai will to death and its influence on Japanese history leads to many insights." Times Literary Supplement .show more

Rating details

19 ratings
3.94 out of 5 stars
5 42% (8)
4 21% (4)
3 32% (6)
2 0% (0)
1 5% (1)
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