This is one of the Bunraku plays which is based on a true incident.
Oshichi was a greengrocer's daughter at Hongo in Edo. After her house was burnt in the great ñre of December 28, 1681, she lived temporarily together with her family at the Shosen-in, their family temple. During her stay in the temple she fell in love with Shonosuke, a handsome page serving the chief priest, and even after the family removed to their rebuilt house in January the following year she continued to meet Shonosuke secretly.
However, the opportunities for seeing each other in this way were few and the girl's infatuation grew until she found the long intervals between their brief assignations unbearable. On the thoughtless assumption that she would be able to live again under the same roof as Shonosuke if her house were destroyed by another fire, she set fire to a neighbor's house.
Fortunately the fire was soon found and extinguished without causing much damage but she was arrested for arson and sentenced to death by burning. The execution took place on March 28, 1682, at Suzugamori after she had been led on horseback along Edo streets as a warning to citizens in generai.
Five years after the sensational incident Saikaku Ihara (1642-1693), the famous novelist, put her story into his novel entitled "Koshoku Gonin Onna" (The Five Amorous Women). About 20 years later Kaion Ki wrote a puppet drama "Yaoya Oshichi". "Date Musume Koi no Hikanoko" is another version written jointly by Sensuke Suga, Wakichi Matsuda and Fuemi Wakatake in 1773.
In this play the original story is revised freely in order to make its climax more dramatic. Instead of setting fire to a house in order that she may live near her lover again Oshichi in this play climbs a fire lookout tower in the snow late at night to sound a fire alarm for the purpose of saving her lover from suicide and dishonor.
One snowy day Kichisaburo, a page of the Kisshoin Temple, comes to the house of Kyubei, a greengrocer at Hongo, Edo, in order to meet Oshichi, Kyubei's daughter, with whom he is in love.
Kichisaburo and Oshichi first met when her family took temporary shelter at the Kisshoin Temple after one of the fues for which Edo was notorious had destroyed their house. Even after her father had rebuilt their house and the family had removed from the temple, the young couple continued to meet secretly and their love grew with every stolen meeting.
Kichisaburo, who is of a samurai family, has learned that his former master, Saemonnosuke, has committed seppuku, taking responsibility for the loss of his lord's sword which had been left in his custody and which had been stolen. Kichisaburo knows that he must follow suit because his late father told him in his will that Kichisaburo should loyally follow his master always, in death as in life. But before Kichisaburo leaves his love forever he has come to her house to see Oshichi for the last time.
In front of the house he comes across Osugi, a maid, going out on an errand, and asks her to assist him in meeting Oshichi. Osugi lets him hide in the space under the raised floor, asking him to wait until she returns from her errand.
Kyubei comes with his daughter Oshichi into the room below which Kichisaburo is lurking. Kyubei tells Oshichi that Buhei, a rich merchant, to whom he owes much money, is most persistent in his demand to make Oshichi his wife. Though Kyubei knows that Oshichi loves Kichisaburo, he must marry her to Buhei because he cannot otherwise repay his debt which is long overdue.
Oshichi most reluctantly gives her consent to her father's entreaty. Overhearing their conversation, Kichisaburo sorrowfully steals away. Kyubei enters an inner room leaving Oshichi to weep alone. Osugi comes back and tells her mistress that Kichisaburo has hidden himself and wishes to see her.
Oshichi hurries to meet him only to find that he has already gone, leaving a letter saying he has to die to sustain the honor of his former master, Saemonnosuke, and telling the story of the stolen sword.
Terribly shocked, Oshichi and her maid desperately try to think how to save Kichisaburo. Yasaku, a servant, who has been in an adjacent closet, overhears their conversation and comes forward to tell them that the lost sword is in the hands of Buhei. Knowing that only the return of the sword can save Kichisaburo from suicide, the two servants leave for Buhei's house to recover it.
The temple bell tolls midnight. In those days every main street was blocked by gates which were closed at midnight for the sake of security and the various districts were sealed often until dawn. Oshichi knows she must deliver the sword to Kichisaburo before the sun rises but since all the gates are barred she is helpless. Only one thing can open the barriers and that is the sound of the fire alarm bell.
Though the penalty for a false alarm is death, she runs to the watch-tower near her house and climbing it, frantically rings the sonorous bell at the top. As she descends from the tower she meets the servants Osugi and Yasaku who have successfully recovered the sword and brought it to her to deliver to her lover.
The scene at the watch-tower is dramatically most exciting. As Oshichi in her scarlet kimono climbs the biack tower, stark against the snowy background, the shamisen music is heightened by the sharp percussion of wooden clappers.
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