A distinctive feature of japanese society is its apparent eagerness to embrace various forms of voluntary death or suicide as legitimate, even positive, behavior with a potentially redemptive value. These forms include the samurai's ritualistic disembowelment (seppuku or harakiri), remonstration suicide (kanshi) in protest against a corrupt superior, and suicide out of devotion to a lord or superior (junsbi), all of which are surrounded by “a heroic, romantic, aesthetic, and moral aura” (Lebra 1976:190). Suicide is, of course, an extraordinary act in Japan as elsewhere in the world (Lifton 1979:24). Though it is not common, it is widely revered by Japanese if committed on the basis of authentic moral intentions in relation to societal pressure—that is, to exorcise shame (haji) and to highlight honor, dignity, and integrity. In a culture that esteems the tragic hero who embodies the “nobility of failure” (Morris 1975), and which regards voluntary death as an experiential transcendence for participants and observers alike, perhaps the most extreme and intriguing example of taking one's own life is the double suicide or love suicide (shinjū).

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