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“The Love Suicides at Amijima” by Chikamatsu


The given analysis will primarily focus on the story of “The Love Suicides at Amijima” by Chikamatsu and translated and revised by Asataro Miyamori and Robert Nichols. The plot is mainly based on real-life events, which took place during the time of writing. It is important to note that these actions were primarily driven by different socio-cultural and historical rules and norms imposed upon the public.

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The storyline revolves around two lovers who decide to commit a love suicide since they view such an approach as the only solution because society does not allow them to be together. The main characters are Koharu and Jihei, who are have to battle between their love and social pressures as well as obligations. The primary focus of the analysis will be put on the treatment of gender dynamics and roles reflected in the work.

Theme and Message

The central theme of the story revolves around love and marriage, where the emphasis is put on the notion that these two are not necessarily intertwined or related. The main male character, Jihei, is a paper merchant with a wife, Osan, and two children. It is evidenced by Tahei’s mockery speech, where he states: “You are indeed a lucky woman, Koharu Dono, to be loved by Jihei, of all the numberless men of Osaka, a nice little paper-dealer – the father of two children, whose wife is his cousin and whose father-in-law is his aunt’s husband” (Monzaemon 6).

Therefore, Jihei is in a complicated relationship, where he is married to his cousin, and he is forced to choose between his family and Koharu. In the main female character’s case, Koharu, she is a proprietress who is in love with Jihei and made a deal with him to commit love suicide if the ransom will not be paid for her. Throughout the story, it becomes evident that Osan sincerely loves her husband, Jihei, and willing to sacrifice all of her savings to prevent the suicide of the lovers.

For example, Osan states: “I think you could raise at least seventy ryo on these clothes” (Monzaemon 25). In other words, Osan was willing to sacrifice all of her money and belongings to save Jihei and Koharu from death. Osan also states: “I and the children can get along without finery; but with a man public esteem is everything” (Monzaemon 25). The statement also reveals the element of gender and its structure within the Japanese society of this period.

A high level of expectations and pressure is put on males, whereas women are subjugated and made unimportant to the degree that a woman is willing to give up everything to protect familial dignity through a male. Although Osan can be considered as a selfless and loving wife, Jihei is still interested only in Koharu supporting the key theme of the story, which is about happiness and love not being equivalents to marriage and family.

Author’s Biography

It is important to note that the author and creator of the story are Chikamatsu Monzaemon. One should also be aware that he is regarded as a “Japanese Shakespeare” due to the complexity and intricate beauty of his work (“Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725)” par. 1). Born into a samurai family, this Japanese playwright has created plays for both puppet theater and kabuki theater. Chikamatsu Mondzaemona can be called the greatest playwright of the era, and in terms of the level of drama, the theater of that time was clearly divided into theaters before and after Chikamatsu.

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The awakening of the class of townspeople, striving for freedom of feelings and rebelling against the inertia of feudal morality, became the central theme of Tikamatsu’s “philistine dramas.” He was born in 1653 in Echizen, Japan, and it is stated that he became “perhaps the greatest dramatist in the history of the Japanese theatre. Born into a Samurai family, Chikamatsu’s father went ronin, abandoning his feudal duties sometime between 1664 and 1670, and moving his family to Kyoto where they became attached to the local court aristocracy” (“Chikamatsu Monzaemon” par. 1). In other words, the dramatist was a highly talented individual who was born in a high social class.

It is also stated that “Chikamatsu rewrote materials from ancient myth, court narratives, and military chronicles, making figures and stories from the historical past newly relevant. In his domestic tragedies, he turned to petty merchants and other members of the lower class torn between social obligations and personal desires” (Shimazaki 1451). Therefore, the writer had a wide range of expertise and experience in his craft since he worked with a variety of literary works. He died in 1725 in Osaka (“Chikamatsu Monzaemon” par. 5).

Historical Context

The historical context of the writing is a highly important element of the story since, in order to understand the overall motives of the characters, one should be aware about the specifics of the setting and time period. Although the story does not explicitly state the timeframe of the events, it is evident that acts take place during the same period as the author’s writing time. It is also supported by the fact that the story is based on real love suicide events, which means that the plot takes place during the lifetime of the author (Groot 4). One should take into consideration the notion of gender structure and patriarchy of Japan’s society of this time period since both the play and historical knowledge are indicative of a high degree of gender role differences and inequalities (Hane 152).

The social rules and norms were strict during this period, and many penalties were imposed for non-adherences to these established boundaries, which are backed by both tradition and governance. For example, Jihei needed to give a ransom for Koharu in order to be able to be with her, and the alternative option could only be countered through death by suicide. The sheer willingness of lovers to kill themselves is reflective of how social norms and rules determine and prevent people from disobeying these norms.


The author’s impact on the canon of world literature was a substantial one. It is stated that “his image has been subject to changing notions of the world and world canons in Japan” (Shimazaki 1451). Since the main focus of the paper is on gender and social structure, it is important to point out that females were mostly a highly subjugated party with minimal rights. For example, throughout the story, male-female interactions reveal how inequality pervades the very fabric of society, from gender roles to traditional rules applied to each social unit. From the above information, it becomes clear why the parents and the senior samurai had the last word.

Even an offer to marry the groom did not make to the girl, but her parents, and they, in turn, tried to learn more about the future son-in-law. As a sign of the man’s consent to marry the girl, he sent her silk fabric. In turn, the bride’s family also sent silk fabric for sewing kimono in return (Groot 78). It is ethically and methodologically correct to formulate the main problem of gender inequality in the story about the institution of marriage in a singular way.

If a man or woman, as a result of inequality in marriage, is deprived of a significant part of his opportunities and at the same time realizes this deprivation as a problem or difficulty, then it is appropriate to raise the question of inequality as a contradiction. If inequality suits both partners, brings them significantly more benefits than difficulties, then the invasion of the social territory of private life can be regarded as hypocrisy, dogmatism, or some form of fundamentalism.

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In conclusion, the story “The Love Suicides at Amijima” by Chikamatsu is an outstanding piece of literature filled with realism due to the basis of real events and core themes of love and marriage. In addition, the literary piece can also be regarded as a historical document, which reveals the intricate and complex gender roles of the Japanese society of the 17th century, where females had almost no independence or power, and the patriarchal system severely pressured males to be providers and the familial backbones. The story of Koharu and Jihei sheds light on how one can be involved in a decent marriage, but the latter does not guarantee happiness and love. In order to obtain them, lovers were willing to commit suicide with the belief of having a chance to be together in the afterlife.

Works Cited

Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725).Washburn University. Web.

Chikamatsu Monzaemon.Imagi-Nation. Web.

Groot, Kirsten. “The Love Suicide at Amijima as a Performance: The Construction of Chikamatsu’s Characters.” Media, Arts, Culture & History, vol. 10, 2019, pp. 1-29.

Hane, Mikiso. Premodern Japan: A Historical Survey. Routledge, 2018.

Monzaemon, Chikamatsu. ” The Love Suicides at Amijima.Publications Japanese Series. Web.

Shimazaki, Satoko. “Chikamatsu Monzaemon: Historical Drama and Love Suicide Plays.” Drama and Performance, vol. 1, 2019, pp. 1451-1770.

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