Kiri-sute gomen

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Kiri-sute gomen[1] (斬捨御免 or 切捨御免?, literally, "authorization to cut and leave" - the body of the victim) is an old Japanese expression dating back to the feudal era right to strike (right of samurai to kill commoners for perceived affronts). Samurai had the right to strike with sword at anyone of a lower class who compromised their honour.


Because the right was defined as a part of self defence, the strike had to follow immediately after the offence, meaning that the striker could not attack someone for a past grievance. Also, due to the right being self-defence, it was not permissible to deliver a further coup de grâce. Moreover, the samurai who exercised the right had to prove the correctness of his action in court by producing a witness. Punishment for the incorrect exercise of this right was severe. An offender could be beheaded without being allowed to perform seppuku and have his house abolished, meaning that none of his sons could succeed the title. Due to the seriousness of the punishment, many performed seppuku to pre-empt the verdict. A samurai visiting a different feudal province had to be extremely careful, especially if it was in Edo, the seat of the Shogun. Wrongful executions of commoners from different feudal provinces were seen as an offence against a feudal state. It was thus advisable for samurai visiting different provinces to be accompanied by a servant, so as to provide a witness.

Right of defence[edit]

Because of the somewhat arbitrary nature of this right, anyone who was at the receiving end had the right to defend themselves by wakizashi (short sword). This situation was most common in the case of a higher samurai exercising the right against a lower ranked samurai as samurai would always carry wakizashi.

The expression is still sometimes used in modern-day as "I apologize in advance for this one" for the subtle humour in offering what amounts to an unsympathetic apology.

An instance of Kiri sute gomen is described in the story of the Hōgyū Jizō statue. A boy, whose father was killed by Kiri sute gomen, made 100 stone statues in later life, in Kumamoto.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary, ISBN 4-7674-2015-6