The Love Suicides of Amijima, first performed in January 1721, is a classic in Japanese theater. Written by Japanese playwright Chikamatsu Monzemon, the play was originally for performance in puppet theater, but was later performed in kabuki. Based on a real love suicide incident, the play contrasted the world in the pleasure quarters to that of domesticity. Through the two main female characters Koharu and Oman, Monzemon exemplifies the conflicts between role of obligations to the family and true love. Choices are made with heavy consideration of “face” and reputation. Face for men is reflected of how others perceive Jihei; face for women is not only sacrificing all they have for their husband, but sacrificing themselves for other women with the underlying women code.
Despite having a loving wife and children, Jihei is careless and seemingly nonchalant of his family and more concerned of how others view him. His infidelity to Koharu points to his disloyalty to his family. When he divorces from Osan and flees with Koharu instead, Jihei says “as long as I had this hair I was Kamiya Jihei, Osan’s husband, but cutting it has made me a monk” (360). Jihei’s casual action of cutting his hair to symbolize his permanent breaking of ties with his wife show his immediate lack of care from his family and children who still live with him. His lack of any concern of his previous marriage is revealed when Koharu expresses worry of the love suicide as she fears she is inducing Jihei to commit suicide, a crime against Osan. To that Jihei replies, “what foolish worries! Osan has been taken back by my father-in-law. I’ve divorced her. She and I are strangers now. Why should you feel obliged to a divorced woman?” (109). Jihei’s cruel words of “stranger” and inconsiderate actions of committing love suicide with a lover without any concern and preparation of his children’s future, signifies his lack of responsibility. This has to do with the tradition of marriage in feudal Japan that marriage is simply “an arrangement between individuals or two nuclear families” (Japanese). Marriage was not based on feelings and love but an arrangement that mutually benefits both families. With no feeling Jihei is not committed to the relationship and induced to terminate the tie without any emotional concern. On the other hand, regarding Koharu potentially ransomed by Tahei, a rich merchant, Koharu is immediately concerned, not only of wanting to claim Koharu but most importantly his reputation. As Jihei says, “I’ll meet with the contemptuous stares from the wholesalers. I’ll be dishonored” (350). His first concern with Koharu’s ransom is not of wanting Koharu for he loves her more than anything else, but that he cannot let Tahei beat him and everyone knowing about it.
On the other hand, Japanese women are willing to sacrifice all they have in exchange of their husband’s reputation. Even if they are bound to the marriage by an arranged agreement, they perform their wifely duties loyally. This in turn reflects Japanese’s women cultural root of unwavering loyalty for their husbands. Despite Jihei’s infidelity for two women, his wife Osan and lover Koharu, they choose to yield all they have for him. For both women, their sacrifice has to do with preserving her husband’s reputation. When realizing that Tahei might ransom her before Jihei does, Koharu says “it would be a blow to me, of course, but a worst disgrace to Jihei’s honor” (11). She puts Jihei’s honor above herself even when she was the one ransomed, that this ransom – potentially affecting her more than Jihei – is more catastrophic and severe for her lover. Osan, the loyal wife, is willing to give all her savings for the family business to ransom Koharu, with her reasoning that “my husband’s reputation concerns me more… Assert your honor before Tahei” (351). She further expands her selflessness for her husband by saying “I’d be glad to rip the nails from