In September 1912, Gen. Maresuke Nogi — a hero of the Russo-Japanese War — committed ritual suicide. His sensational death took place on the day of Emperor Meiji's funeral, making it an act of junshi (following one's lord in death) and a high-water mark for the samurai code in the modern era.

Was Nogi's death heroic or absurdly anachronistic? The Edo Period (1603-1868) Confucian scholar Yamaga Soko — a key thinker for 19th-century Bushido theorists — would not have approved: he criticized junshi as symptomatic of sexual relations between samurai.

Two years after Nogi's suicide, novelist Natsume Soseki picked up on this theme when he introduced the general's death at a critical moment in the unfolding of his iconic novel "Kokoro" ("The Heart"). A middle-aged character known as "Sensei" is haunted by the suicide of his closest friend. He bares his soul in a long confession to an impressionable young narrator. Then, hearing news of Nogi's junshi, Sensei dramatically declares that he has decided to commit suicide, too.