Junshi (Self-immolation) (殉死)

Junshi is applied to the death of a close relative or a follower of a king, an emperor, a chief, or a priest, resulted from suicide to follow his or her master in death.
Junso (A funeral for the person who committed junshi)
There are two cases of junshi: in one case, a person voluntarily kills himself or herself and in the other case, a regime selects a person to perform junshi compulsorily.

There was a time when junshi was prohibited, but it is thought that this prohibition was introduced to avoid the loss of valuable human resources or out of fear of offending public morality.

Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Ancient China, the Ancient Korean Peninsula, Japan and the like had the custom to perform Junso.

Ancient Times

Because there was no concrete example of junshi which can be proved archaeologically, it is unknown whether junshi was generally performed or not. However, burial facilities without funerary goods were found in areas around funkyubo (mounded burials) of the Yayoi period and funkyu (burial mounds) of the Kofun period.it; therefore it is thought that Junso was possibly conducted. Because there is an example where horses were buried around the ancient tomb built in the fifth century, it is thought to be influenced by the customs brought by the people who came from across the seas.

According to Gishiwajinden (An Account of the People of Wa [Japan]) in the Chinese history book, San-Goku-Shi (History of the Three Kingdoms [a history book]), when Queen Himiko, the ruler of Yamataikoku, died and her burial mound was constructed, over one hundred nuhi (male and female bond servants) were buried, as described in the following: "卑彌呼以死大作冢徑百餘歩徇葬者奴婢百餘人." According to Suininki in "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan), NOMI no Sukune suggested to bury the people and horses made of earth instead of burying people who sacrifice their own lives to follow the Empress in the imperial mausoleum of Hibasuhime no mikoto (it is a narrative about the origin of haniwa [a clay figure]; however, it is not admitted archaeologically).

According to the entry in the Nihonshoki in the section of 22nd March, the 2nd year of Taika (646) (in the old calendar), after the Taika Reforms the Taika Hakusorei (the Taika funerary law) was stipulated, as a result of which the construction of Zenpo-koen-fun (the front-square and rear-round tomb mounds) was stopped and the downsized kofun were increased. When the Taika Hakusorei was issued, junshi and junso of people and horses were also prohibited.

The junshi of samurai

When a master was died on a battlefield or cut his abdomen after the defeat of a war, his retainers also died on the battlefield or committed seppuku (suicide by disembowelment) to follow the master. Or a retainer could not be there when his master died, the retainer committed oibara (suicide to follow his dead master). From earlier stage, such suicide was performed as the act of showing natural feelings to his master and as the code of samurai. In samurai society after the middle ages, it was thought that the suicide of a wife, a retainer, or a follower to follow his or her master in death was a noble thing. In the Sengoku period (the Warring States period [in Japan]), there was not a custom to commit the oibara (hara-kiri to follow the deceased master) when a master died of natural causes such as die of disease. However, some think that because of this, many daimyo families experienced difficulty in the transition of power to the next generation and in the end encountered hardships of losing the territory.

When Japan entered the Edo period, occasions to die in a battle field decreased, as the result of which close retainers, such as attendant, came to commit suicide to follow his dead master even when the master died of natural cause. However, when Kabukimono (dandy, or people who behave in unique manner believing it is fashionable) became popular, the custom of believing oibara as the proof of loyalty was established, and the public praised the custom, people who committed suicide were increased all the more. People even went so far as to call an attendant, especially the master's chodo (a boy who stands high in the favor of his master among those who entertain pederasts) and the chief retainer who didn't wish to commit junshi an unfaithful follower and a coward. The daimyo (a feudal lord) who was known as a wise ruler noticed the harmful influence of junshi earlier and tried to stop it, but it wasn't effective enough. The young lord who just succeeded as the head of a family couldn't compete with the chief retainers who served to the predecessor in practical affairs, which created a difficulty in getting united action, centering on a lord. Some think that for the master's house the people who were given important positions by a predecessor had a role to die gracefully to realize smooth transition of power to the next generation.

In Meiryo-kohan (historical records), junshi was classified into three types: "gibara" was performed from true loyalty to one's master, "ronbara" was the junshi based on the logic in which one thought that he has to commit junshi because other person performed junshi, and "shobara" was committed for the purpose of wishing one's offspring's advancement in social status. However, it is thought that "shobara" is not a historic fact because there is no case in which the family of the person who performed junshi got an increase in stipend.

In 1663, during the reign of the fourth shogun Ietsuna TOKUGAWA and the fifth shogun Tsunayoshi TOKUGAWA, the system of the Tokugawa shogunate administration was changed from the military administration to the civilian administration; in other words, shifted from the way of kabukimono samurai to the Confucianism-based bushido (shido) (the samurai code). In 1665, the prohibition of performing junshi was notified orally with the proclamation of Buke Shohatto (Laws Governing Military Households). In 1683, as the prohibition of matsugo-yoshi (adopting a child as one's son on one's deathbed) was relaxed, the prohibition of junshi was included in the Laws Governing Military Households and junshi was prohibited officially.

After the Meiji period

In the Meiji period, the officer of land forces, Maresuke Nogi, committed junshi upon the death of Emperor Meiji in 1912, which exercised a social influence.

[Original Japanese]