To those of us in the West, seppuku is a pretty difficult concept to understand. Sure, nearly every red-blooded military aficionado of European descent can appreciate a good, brutal last stand every now and then, where a great hero goes down completely surrounded in a chest-deep pile of freshly-disemboweled corpses, but as far as most of us are concerned, being forcibly taken prisoner after putting up a valiant, super-bloody defense isn't really a sign that you're a spineless dishonorable loser who brings nothing but crushing, inescapable shame on your entire clan for all eternity. If anything, being captured alive means that a real hardass can continue fighting, plan a daring escape, shank a dude in the prison yard for no reason, or really do any number of badass things available to you once you're locked-down in some bullshit military clink. In Japanese culture, however, this isn't really the case – to those who follow the code of Bushido, being captured alive by your enemies is the greatest dishonor you could possibly suffer. If you're going to allow your good name to befall such an inglorious end by falling into the possession of your enemies, you may as well just go all the way and turn your family coat of arms into a giant bag of douches because you fucking suck and are a miserable excuse for a soldier. To the samurai, the only way to preserve anything even remotely resembling honor was by gloriously stabbing yourself in the abdomen with a sharp object and ruthlessly cutting out your own guts like a badass.
So, by this rationale, if seppuku is one of the most honorable last acts a warrior can undertake, then the guy responsible for committing the most widely-respected seppuku in Japanese history would be pretty much awesome. Here's a fun historical fact: He was.
Torii Mototada was one of the chief generals of a super-powerful Japanese feudal lord named Tokugawa Ieyasu. If the name Tokugawa seems vaguely familiar to you somehow, that would probably be because this guy was the founder of a powerful Japanese Shogunate that would rule the land for over two and a half centuries – a task that was made possible in no small part by the inexhaustible head-cleavery of Torii Mototada. Torii and Tokugawa were very close friends dating back to their youths, having served together in combat for the entirety of their careers, and Torii had made a badass name for himself as a tough-as-shit warrior in a battle when he led 2,000 cavalrymen in a rearguard action against 10,000 enemy samurai and somehow smashed his way through the enemy ranks like a Cerebral Bore drilling into someone's cranial cavity at a very high RPM rate. Torii was also present during the siege of Ueda Castle, which was commanded by a famous samurai dude known as "The Crimson Demon of War", and unflinchingly attacking someone with a nickname like that can only help your reputation for being a pretty hardcore badass. As a token of respect for Mototada's friendship, duty, and military asskickery, Tokugawa rewarded his friend by granting him command of the ultra-important fortress of Fushimi Castle in southwest Japan:
Now during this particular time in Japanese history (1600 AD), two major factions were vying for ultimate iron-fisted supremacy over the countryside –Tokugawa's already-in-control army, and the remnants of the forces loyal to the now-deceased badass Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Commanding the garrison at Fushimi Castle was a big deal not just because it blocked the only path leading from Hideyoshi territory to the Tokugawa-controlled capital, but because it also used to be Hideyoshi's personal residence, and sleeping on the bed that once belonged to the leader of your enemies is just kind of kickass in principle alone. However, being awesome in this regard also meant that Fushimi was going to be the first fortress attacked in the inevitable war between the Tokugawa and the Hideyoshi armies – when someone's in ur house eatin ur f00ds you don't fuck around when it comes to dislodging them with flaming arrows and multi-pointed steel-plated stabbing-ness.
The attack finally came in August of 1600, when Torii Mototada received word that 40,000 of Hideyoshi's men were rapidly approaching with the intent of crushing Fushimi Castle to rubble with their nuts and then teabagging the corpses of Mototada's favorite lieutenants and concubines. Torii, knowing that his impossibly-small garrison had absolutely no chance to survive (some sources cite the number of defenders as just over two thousand), resolved to die with honor in a badass fiery last stand rather than pull back and give up the castle like a non-seppuku-committing punk. When word came down of this surprise invasion, Tokugawa was all the way off on the other side of the country subjugating barbarians by shoving his katana through their heads, so Mototada knew that he would best serve his lord by holding out as long as possible and giving Tokugawa a chance to about-face his giant army, tear ass back across the countryside, meet the enemy before they reached the capital, and righteously whip the pants off those Hideyoshi bastards once and for all.
Knowing that the fate of Japanese history was hanging in the balance, Torii Mototada made the bold decision to make an awesome last stand and turn Fushimi Castle into the Japanese Alamo. He would stand, hold out as long as possible, wreak as much nut-crunching devastation as his two thousand sword-swinging samurai psychos could muster, and make sure that his ridiculously hardcore struggle against impossible odds would serve as an inspiration to the rest of the Tokugawa army about what it means to be a badass. He wrote his final letter, stating his desire to be remembered as a warrior of honor, and then immediately set about making sure the Hideyoshi invaders would pay for every inch of land with a fire hose-like explosion of over-the-top arterial blood spray.
On 27 August 1600, the battle flags of Hideyoshi commander Ishida Mitsunari appeared over the rise outside Fushimi Castle. The army Ishida brought with him was ridiculous – easily ten to twenty times the size of the castle garrison – but Torii Mototada couldn't have given a flying fuck at a rolling donut. Toriiordered his archers and musketeers to the battlements, opened fire on the attackers, and then withstood a tremendous, unstoppable onslaught of wave after wave of spear-slinging samurai warriors.
For a week the defenders of Fushimi Castle raged against their attackers. Even as the defenses, walls, and battlements were crumbling around them and they continually moved back to interior positions, they never showed any fear or cowardice, or any emotion other than blood-rage and the undying desire to beheat as many of their attackers as humanly possible. Even after the garrison retreated to the main tower, the last bastion of defense for Fushimi Castle, and then the tower was then set on fire, Mototada's men continued to hold out against the attack of steel and flames.
On the eighth day of the siege, Mototada's force had been reduced to just 200 brave men surrounded by a battle-hardened army of 35,000. The castle burning, and the men all wounded and exhausted, Torii Mototada's chief lieutenant asked if it was time to call it quits and commit seppuku. Fuck that. These guys hadn't come this far just to throw in the towel like a bunch of bitches, and as long as they had some semblance of a military they were going to just keep stabbing fools in the nards with longswords until they died. Mototada led five badass, balls-out charges from the castle tower right into the balls of the enemy formation, cutting down everyone in his way, which is insane. Most people would be lucky to last five seconds commanding two hundred men against thirty-five thousand, but I guess this guy was just that extreme.
Repeatedly sending your men on insane suicide charges is great and all, but it does eventually tend to take a toll on your forces. Finally, on the tenth day of the siege, Torii Mototada and his ten most hardcore samurai were all that remained, battling ferociously as their now-worthless castle burned around them. Torii, pressed on all sides by spear points and samurai swords, finally collapsed from an epic number of spear, arrow, and sword wounds. An enemy samurai named Saiga Shigetomo rushed up, spear poised for a kill-shot, but Torii found just enough strength do raise his arm and yell, "Hold up motherfucker! Just give me a sec here." Amazingly, the guy stopped dead in his tracks, presumably cowed in the presence of Mototada's insane steel-tempered ballsack. Mototada, already half-dead, pulled himself up onto his knees, drew his dagger, and died an honorable and appropriately-gory death through seppuku. The Siege of Fushimi Castle had cost the invading Hideyoshi army three thousand men, and, more importantly, ten days that they couldn't afford to waste. Tokugawa Ieyasu would arrive shortly thereafter with an army of 90,000 warriors, crush the Hideyoshi at the Battle of Sekigahara, and establish a dynasty that would go on to rule Japan for two and a half centuries.
The Last Statement of Torii Mototada
Bryant, Anthony J. Sekigahara 1600. Osprey, 1995.
Turnbull, Stephen R.&nbps; The Samurai. Routledge, 1996.
Wilson, William Scott and Gregory Lee. Ideals of the Samurai. Black Belt Communications, 1982.