One of my students started an interesting conversation with me yesterday:

‘Do you know せっぷく (切腹)?’
Well, ‘No,’ I replied.
She said, ‘Do you know はらきり (腹切り)?’
‘Yes…’ I’ve heard of it.

I just guessed that it was a Japanese word that some English people knew but my student claimed that はらきり was the English word for せっぷく. せっぷく means the same but is the word Japanese people normally use.

True enough, the word ‘harakiri’ is in my English-English dictionary, but it’s definately from Japanese: my student looked shocked when it also appeared in my Japanese-English dictionary. I didn’t know that harakiri had been accepted as an English word.

はらきり is the act of killing yourself by cutting open your stomach with a sword, performed espeically by the Samurai in Japan in the past, to avoid losing honour.

Interestingly both versions of the word use the same kanji… but to confuse us they are in reverse order and with different readings!


  1. はらきり is the act of cutting your stomach for suicide. せっぷく is the same, except because it can take up to 30 mins to die and is extreamly painful, someone “assists” you by chopping off your head after you have made the initial cut. Thats how an old teacher of mine explained it to mean while I was studying in Japan.

  2. Different defintions? Well, the dictionaries I’ve checked seem to suggest that both have the same meaning but perhaps your teacher knows something that I dont 😉 Either way sounds pretty painful, wouldn’t you agree? Thanks for the comment.

  3. The english version is usually spelt (and pronounced) “hari-kiri”, though.

  4. In my dictionaries I can only find hara-kiri. But actually, when I heard the word I did repeat it incorrectly as ‘harikiri’ so maybe I half knew the English version you are talking about.