Written by Monzaemon Chikamatsu at the age of 70, "Shinju Yoi Goshin" is the last of his sewamono (townsfolk plays). The play took as its theme the double suicide of Hambei, a grocer of Osaka, and his wife Ochiyo in front of the donation office of the Daibutsuden Temple at Ikudama before dawn on April 6, 1721.
The play was first staged at the Takemotoza Theatre on April 22 of the following year. There are several other plays written around the same theme, with slight variations of the details. One of these is "Yaoya no Kondate”. Another is "Shinju Futatsu Haraobi" written by Kaion Ki and first staged at the Toyotakeza on April 6, 1722, or 16 days earlier than the first performance of "Shinju Yoi Goshin."
Although in actual life the improper advances of Hambei's foster father to his daughter-in-law were the cause of the couple’s suicide, the villain in “Shinju Yoi Goshin” is the foster mother who unbearably maltreats her daughter-in-law.
Hambei, son of a samurai in Hamamatsu, was adopted at the age of 22 by the grocer Iemon at Shin Utsebo, Osaka. He works hard and his grocery business prospers. Some years later he marries Ochiyo, who is 10 years younger than he. They love each other but their happiness is marred by his mother's maltreatment of Ochiyo. One day during Hambei’s absence on a visit to Hamamatsu to pay homage at the grave of his late father, the mother-in-law expels Ochiyo from the house. Ochiyo, now four months pregnant, is thus forced to return to the house of her father Heiemon, a well-to-do farmer, in the Village of Ueda located in the suburbs of Kyoto.
Heiemon is ill and confined to his bed and Okaru, his daughter and Ochiyo's elder sister, is attending to him. Okaru's husband, Heiroku, is absent, having gone to Kyoto on business.
Ochiyo arrives at the house on a palanquin. Okaru at first thinks Ochiyo has come to inquire after her ailing father but soon learns from her that she has been expelled from her home by her mother-in-law.
Kinzo, a farmer in the neighborhood, who had courted Ochiyo before her marriage to Hambei, visits the house to tell her that he still wishes to marry her. Ochiyo is not in the least interested in his proposal. Kinzo leaves when Heiemon, who is in bed in the inner room, wakes up and calls to Okaru.
Ochiyo goes to her father's bedside to try to comfort him, and he in turn consoles his disheartened daughter, saying what cannot be helped cannot be helped.
Hambei, on his return from Hamamatsu, calls at the house. Okaru receives him coldly, thinking that he had maneuvered to have Ochiyo driven from her home during his absence. Nothing is farther from the truth, however, for Hambei does not even know that Ochiyo is in this same house at this time. So, it is with considerable surprise that he meets Ochiyo when she comes out of her father's bedroom. Hambei speaks to her but Ochiyo, who also believes her mother-in-law's words that Hambei had plotted her expulsion, re-enters her father's bedroom without saying a word to him.
Although not seeing him but being aware of Hambei's visit, Heiemon speaks ill of Hambei to Ochiyo, accusing him of his faithlessness. Hambei, though innocent, finds it difficult to defend himself, for if he does he will have to abuse his foster mother. He suddenly draws his sword and attempts to kill himself. Okaru stops him and is soon joined by Ochiyo. Seeing his two daughters struggle with Hambei, Heiemon tells Hambei from his bed that the family trouble will become the talk of the town if he kills himself. Realizing the foolishness of his idea, Hambei gives up and reasserts his steadfast and unchanging love for Ochiyo.
Heiemon asks his two daughters to help each other and live in happiness even after his death, which he believes is imminent. In token of an agreement to this effect he proposes to exchange cups of sake. As there is no sake ready, however, those present exchange cups of water as an expedient. ( According to Japanese custom, cups of water are exchanged only on the occasion of a final parting. The use of water here m place of sake, though inevitable under the circumstances,
Hambei and Ochiyo leave the house together, Hambei hoping to persuade his foster mother to re-accept Ochiyo.
Tahei, nephew of Hambei's foster mother, lives in Hambei's house and works as an employee store. He has just returned from a round of calls to customers. Since his return was later than expected, the old woman and Hambei scold him.
Tahei says he was delayed because he was called into the Yamashiroya store on his way back and was asked by its proprietor to tell Hambei that someone is waiting for him in the store. (Although Hambei returned to Osaka with Ochiyo, he did not immediately take her into his house because he thought his foster mother would not let her in. He left Ochiyo in the Yamashiroya whose proprietor is her cousin, wishing to persuade his foster mother at an opportune moment to re-accept Ochiyo. He knows that the "someone" mentioned by Tahei is Ochiyo.)
After Tahei has left for another round of calls to customers, Hambei tries to go out to visit the Yamashiroya but the foster mother holds his hand. She tells him she knows that Ochiyo is in the Yamashiroya and that Hambei has often been secretly visiting her.
A Buddhist priest comes to the house to ask the old couple to attend a dinner in commemoration of the dedication of a new temple bell. Iemon, Hambei's foster father, comes from an inner room and asks his wife to go with him but she says she would like to remain at home for a while because she has more to discuss with Hambei.
After lemon has left, Hambei proposes to her to call Ochiyo and tell her personally that he will divorce her. (Judging from his foster mother's attitude, Hambei realizes that it will be utterly impossible to restore Ochiyo to his home. So, he has made up his mind to commit a double suicide with her.
However, he wishes to save his foster mother from being blamed for Ochiyo's expulsion and the couple's subsequent suicide.) Unaware of Hambei's true intention, the foster mother is overjoyed to hear his proposal. On her way to the dinner she stops at the Yamashiroya to tell Ochiyo that she will welcome her back home. Ochiyo immediately returns to the grocery store to meet Hambei. Hambei tells her of his double suicide plan to which Ochiyo sadly agrees.
The foster mother returns home ahead of her husband. As previously arranged, Hambei tells Ochiyo in the presence of his foster mother that he will divorce her and pushes her out of the house. Unknown to the foster mother, Hambei soon goes out to join Ochiyo and they go to the Daibutsuden Temple at Ikudama to commit a love suicide.
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