“Kawasho” is a sewa-mono (contemporary, domestic plays) about the planned love suicide of merchant Kamiya Jihei and the courtesan Koharu. The original work was “Shinju Ten no Amijima” (Love Suicide at Ten no Amijima) by playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon; the current production is based on a revised version.
Jihei, who has vowed to die with Koharu, visits a teahouse known as Kawasho. There, Koharu is entertaining what appears to be a samurai client. That customer is actually Jihei’s elderly brother Magoemon, who has come to convince Jihei to part ways with Koharu. Jihei decides to follow his brother’s advice and leave Koharu. Meanwhile, Magoemon discovers a letter from Osan, Jihei’s wife, tucked into a pocket in Koharu’s kimono. He assumes that she feels sorry for Osan and has decided to leave Jihei.
The role of Jihei is developed as a typical wagoto (a softer, more realistic style). This character was particularly well played by the first-generation actor Nakamura Ganjiro I (1860-1935), who performed primarily in the Osaka area.
Jihei has pledged to commit suicide with Koharu, and is determined to die together on this day. He appears on the hanamichi (walkway) as the takemoto narrator describes him as “plodding along spiritlessly and absent-mindedly”. Jihei places both hands inside his kimono over his heart, moving with shaky steps and half-open eyes that express his dejected state. The soft and supple movements convey the seductive sensation of wagoto, helping make this the single most celebrated scene of “Kawasho”.