Sunday, November 14, 2010

Shinju ten no Amijima

"Shinju ten no Amijima(心中天網島:The Love Suicides at Amijima)" is a bunraku play, which was written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon(近松門左衛門). It's thought to be based on an actual incident that occurred at Daicho-ji Temple in Amijima on the 14th or 15th day of the 10th month in the lunar calendar (November 13th or 14th in the Gregorian calendar) in 1720.

Under a full moon, the 28-year-old paper merchant named Jihei(治兵衛) and the 19-year-old courtesan named Koharu(小春) head for Daicho-ji to commit suicide together while taking a side glance at several familiar bridges.

He stabs her to death to the sound of Buddhist chants and hangs himself shortly after the chants end.

He has a wife and children, but he is wrapped up in Koharu. They come to love each other. He has to make a substantial payment to buy the freedom of Koharu.  However he can't raise the necessary money. He is obsessed with committing suicide together.

His wife Osan sends Koharu a letter saying she asks Koharu to split up with him for the sake of saving his life. Koharu pretends to be disgusted at him, but he can't perceive her true feelings. He hears another man intends to buy the freedom of Koharu, and that makes him feel animosity against Koharu.

Hearing that from him, Osan perceives Koharu to be resolved to kill herself. Osan tries to come up with the money to save Koharu's life and encourages him to buy the freedom of Koharu. However, Osan's father interrupts her.

Jihei and Koharu prepare to die.

Daicho-ji Temple belongs to Jodo shu which is one of Japanese traditional Buddhist sects. Buddhist monks belonging to Jodo shu used to spend night and day chanting sutras from the night of the 5th day to the morning of the 15th day in the 10th month in the lunar calendar.

They commit suicide on the early morning of the 15th day when the ritual ends.

This ritual derives from Shinshogokuraku-ji Temple(真正極楽寺) known as Shinnyo-do (真如堂) in Kyoto. Now it is held at many temples belonging to Jodo shu in October or November.

Chikamatsu writes up their death agony. The killing scenes in his plays are so real. 
She thrashes about with pain because his knife missed her vital organs. He finishes her off by thrusting a knife into her again.  He writhes and kicks after hanging up. Without feeling, Chikamatsu says it's like a calabash swaying in the wind.

Koharu(小春) is an another name for the 10th month in the lunar calendar. Chikamatsu says the lovers break up in the 10th month due to the absence of the Japanese gods.
It is said that the Japanese gods gather at Izumo Taisha Shrine and have a meeting to make a good match between people in the month.

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