Tragedy of Love in Error

Edo period adultery



zōhō koibakke

Related plays



This is one of Monzaemon Chikamatsu's three plays dealing with adultery, the two others being "Yari no Gonza Kasane Katabira" and "Horikawa Nami no Tsuzumi." The tale was also the basis for one of the stories of Saikaku. Ihara (1642-1693) in his book "Koshoku Gonin Onna" (The Five Amorous Women). The cause celebre that inspired Chikamatsu and Saikaku was the trial of Osan, a beautiful young wife, and her lover, Mohei, an employee of her husband, who were accused of adultery. Their case was tried On August 9, 1683. On September 22 the same year the lovers and Otama, a maid who helped them, were led through Kyoto streets as a shameful example to others, and then executed, the former by crucifixion and the latter by decapitation.

Osan's husband, Ishun, was a daikyoji, a paper hanger with a samurai rank who was authorized by the Government to publish and distribute almanacs. The rigid attitude of the authorities of the day held him to be almost as much to blame as the others and his license to trade was withdrawn and his business closed down.

As noted elsewhere, the severity with which adultery was viewed in old Japan was not occasioned by a sense of abuse of a moral system but by the threat that the deed posed to the rigid social system of the day. It is the, fact that in this case the adulterer (Mohei) is subordinate to the adulteress's husband that makes their crime so serious.

The play was first staged at the Takemotoza Theatre in 1715.

The Almanac Maker's House


The house of Ishun, the almanac maker at Shijo-Karasuma, Kyoto, is extremely busy, for it is November 1, the first day for the distribution of the almanac for the coming year and all the employees are engaged in the dispatch of the new books. Ishun himself, however, is taking a nap because he is tired, having visited since early morning the Imperial Palace, the Princes of the Blood, and the court nobles to distribute the new publication to. The principal subscribers. Sukeyemon, chief clerk, accompanied by Kyuzo, an apprentice, leaves to make a further distribution. With all employees gone, Osan, Ishun's wife, fondles her pet cat while the maid, Otama, looks on. The cat, however, is anxious to join the tomcats waiting for her outside and the other cats answer her plaintive meows. Osan holds her pet tightly, gently scolding it for wanting to run away but the cat struggles, scratches Osan's hand and escapes. "Wicked puss, adulteress! Do you want to end up at the Awataguchi execution ground?" Osan calls after the cat and runs off in pursuit of her.

Otama is about to follow her when Ishun suddenly wakes up and tries to embrace her. Otama struggles and warns lshun that the will call Osan if he does not release her. In the midst of the struggle Osan's mother visits the house. Ishun hurriedly retires. Osan returns to receive her mother and leads her into an inner room.

Mohei, a clerk, returns from a visit to customers. He is a little intoxicated from the sake he has been oftered by custom at each house he has visited. Osan comes to his side and confidentially asks him for help because her parents are in financial difficulty and want to borrow one kamme of silver for 20 days. She says her parents do not like to ask Ishun's help because of the embarrassment it would be to Osan herself. Mohei, who is an impressionable young man, volunteers at once to help the beautiful young wife of his employer and Osan gladly goes in to report to her mother.

Mohei, however, though well intentioned, has offered help that he is in no position to give, for he has no money of his own at all. Flushed with good will and sale, he conceives of a plan to borrow the money from a wholesaler in his master's name.. He therefore makes out an IOU form and affixes Ishun's seal to the paper. Sukeyemon, who has just returned, detects this act. Sukeyemon calls all in the house and beats Mohei in their presence. Unable to reveal his true motive, however, Mohei keeps silent though Ishun persistently demands his explanation. To save Mohei from further punishment, Otanna falsely testifies that she has asked Mohei for a loan because her uncle has written her that he will commit suicide because he cannot pay off a long-standing debt.

Osan and her mother, who have watched the interrogation of A-lohei in fear of his revelation of the real reason, beg Ishun to pardon Mohei, but Ishun gets angrier than ever. Saying he will try Mohei the following day, Ishun orders the confinement of the unfortunate young man in the room upstairs of the empty house next door. Ishun invites Osan's mother to stay overnight at his home and leaves to visit Osan's father to tell him what has happened.

After all have gone to bed, Osan in her nightdress stealthily visits Otama's room in order to thank her for her quick-witted help. Otama confides to Osan that her act was aimed not so much at helping Osan as to rescue Mohei whom she loves, even though he has shown no signs of returning her love. She also tells Osan of Ishun's persistent amorous advances to her.

This, she says, is the reason why he became more angry when she offered her help to Mohei, for he must have construed her interruption, quite rightly, as proof that the love she refused him was reserved for his clerk. Every evening, she goes on, Ishun goes out on some excuse and after all have gone to bed secretly climbs over the fence of his own house and sneaks into Otama's bedroom. So far she has successfully rejected his advances by threatening to tell his wife. But his announced departure to Osan's father is most probably yet another excuse to absent himself from his own room so that he may visit hers again.

The information makes Osan both angry and jealous, wishing to put her husband to shame, she asks Otama to exchange their beds for the night. "I will silently obey him when he enters my bed, making him believe that he is sleeping with you, and when dawn comes I will expose his shameful conduct to all members of his household and also to my mother," says she. The exchanges her night clothes with Otama.

No sooner has Otama left for Osan's bedroom than Mohei comes in. He has escaped from the room in which he was confined and, his heart melted by Otama's attempt to save him from his folly, has come to express his gratitude in word and deed. Thus Osan and Mohei share their bed in the dark, without a word, each mistaking the other for another person.

Suddenly lshun himself comes to the door (as Otama had feared) and Osan and Mohei discover themselves and are themselves discovered in the same instant.

The end of the story, in scenes now rarely played, shows how Mohei and Osan escape from the house and run away together, knowing that their real innocence can never be established. Otama is held responsible for her alleged assistance in the adultery and is confined to the house of her uncle living at Okazaki. In front of this house Osan and Mohei meet Osan's parents who give their daughter money to go as far away as possible. The couple then hide themselves in Mohei's hometown in Tamba but are soon discovered and taken to Kyoto. They are about to be executed when the chief priest of the family temple of Osan's parents successfully appeals to the authorities for mercy.

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