Death can be a terrifying and taboo topic, which some people tend to avoid and be repulsed by. Through this project I aim to restore people’s familiarity with death by changing the perspective on it. I wanted to portray death as a respectful act of honor, while trying to find beauty and romance in the grim act of dying.
I researched suicide, focusing particularly on the Eastern traditions, as they are radically different from how suicide is perceived in the West. In the East, suicide is perceived as an act of honor and loyalty whereas in the West it is perceived as an act of weakness and defeat. As a country, Japan is very suicide tolerant with long traditions of ritual and tradition attached to this ultimate act. I focused my research on ‘Seppuku’, the Japanese Samurais’ form of ritual suicide. It is part of the Bushido code (The Way of the Samurai) and it is performed in the event of bringing shame to the country or to ones self, or following the command of the Emperor.
The book explores the life and training of Samurai, their connection with death; the Bushido code, examples of Samurais committing Sepuku. It also addresses the twin forms of Sepuku (battle and ritual), the history and ritual of Sepuku, and a case study of the most recent Sepuku in 1970, which involved the author/political activist Yukio Mishima.
I have incorporated the aesthetic and structural precision of the ritual in the design of the book, following the overall aesthetic of Japanese design and minimalism. I decided upon a large format for the piece, to allow for sufficient white space to exist and balance the use of text and images, giving the essence of simplicity in each space.
The paper that I have used is Japanese 128gsm Takeo Yomoshi white transparent with rough texture. For the front and back cover I used Saunders Waterfront on 300gsm. The choice of paper symbolizes the delicacy and purity of the culture of Samurai combined with their roughness. For the Bushido tipping page i used Sugar paper 100gsm. Only one typeface is used throughout the book, Akzidenz Grotesk, a sans serif type with various weights. Restraining it to only one typeface reflects the minimalist value of the Japanese culture. The strict use of grid aims to reflect the Japanese geometric accuracy found in architecture and design. The illustrations are inspired by elements of the above, bringing balance and visual coherency to the text.
The colors used are two spot colors Black and Red, following the color pallet used in Japanese calligraphy. Red details are used to portray the passion, blood, and contradictory strong emotions found throughout the ritual. The extra ‘tipping’ pages appearing in the publication are designed to create an element of surprise, stressing the importance of the matters analyzed on those pages (eg Bushido code and French fold). The Bushido code was very important and it had 8 virtues – Seppuku is one of them. I have utilized a perforated French fold that can be cut to mimic the physical nature of the ritual. If the paper is cut then the death poem of Yukio Mishima is revealed.