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International News
Hara-Kiri Still Practiced
Psychiatric News
Volume 46 Number 1 page 14-14

While some researchers were recently focusing on suicides in China (see Suicide Attempters in China Approached Differently From West), others were concentrating on suicides in a neighboring country—Japan.

Specifically, Michiko Kamiya-Takai, Ph.D., of the Department of Medical Psychology at Kitasato University in Kitasoto, Japan, and colleagues wanted to find out whether the ancient Japanese suicidal method of hara-kiri is still being practiced in Japan.

They found that suicide method still being used, though to a very limited extent. They reported their findings in the November 2010 European Psychiatry.

The term "hara-kiri" is derived from the Japanese words "hara" (belly) and "kiri" (to cut) and entails inflicting a wound in one's abdomen with a sharp object. From the 12th to 17th centuries, hara-kiri was a form of ritual suicide in Japan. Defeated warriors (samurai) often resorted to hara-kiri. From the 17th to 19th centuries, hara-kiri was a form of death penalty, disguised as suicide, for accused individuals of Japan's warrior class. In general, hara-kiri is based on the Japanese ideal that an honorable death is more desirable than a life of shame. Kamiya-Takai and his colleagues wanted to learn what role, if any, hara-kiri plays in suicide attempters in contemporary Japan.

They scrutinized the medical records of 421 individuals who had been treated for suicidal behavior by psychiatrists at Kitasato University Hospital Emergency Medical Center from 2006 to 2008. Diagnostic criteria were based on the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems. They categorized methods of suicide into hara-kiri or other methods. They found that 19 patients (5 percent of the sample) had attempted suicide via hara-kiri.

Although it was difficult to learn much about individuals who had attempted hara-kiri from a sample of only 19 people, the researchers nonetheless ascertained that they were more likely than the other 402 subjects to be male, married, and older and to have schizophrenia.

Whether these characteristics actually played a role in their hara-kiri attempts was not determined.

An abstract of "Exploration of Factors Related to Hara-Kiri as a Method of Suicide and Suicidal Behavior" can be accessed at <www.sciencedirect.com> under "Browse by Title" by clicking on "E" and then "European Psychiatry."blacksquare

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