Kabuki Theater Love Suicides

The Kabuki theaters showed plays where the lovers would make suicide pacts. Often, in addition to having a troubled love affair, one or both of the lovers would have a variety of troubles in his or her life. Thus death was an escape from the pain of daily existence, and also would apparently ensure that the couples would be together forever in the afterlife. Sometimes the lovers were young people who were separated by forces beyond their control, in other cases one of the couples might be a married man having an affair with his mistress. The love affair with the mistress seems to be an escape from the daily responsibilities of married life, and the married man, who has this passionate affair with the prostitute, doesn’t want to leave his wife for her and make the prostitute his new wife. Making her the new wife would basically put him in the situation of having to support a wife and children all over again, which is something he wants to escape from. So he’d rather kill himself and his prostitute lover at the height of their passion.

It seems that in these stories, many of the men seem to desire the love of a prostitute above all others. Perhaps the playwrights were customers of prostitutes, as the entertainment centers were in the same part of town as the prostitution business. A prostitute is a businesswoman, it’s highly improbable that she would love a client, let alone to the point where she would kill herself over him. But a man who doesn’t have anyone in his life, and has set up this beautiful fantasy over a prostitute (who is an entertainer of sorts herself, she helps a man act out not just a sexual act, but a fantasy), might be deranged enough to want to kill himself when he cannot get the love he desires. Especially if, as in the case Kamiya Jihei, he feels that he has squandered a lot of money on a woman who he loved, but he finds out she doesn’t love him.

Understandably, as these plays inspired suicides, the Japanese government had to step in. Particularly in the case of where one lover backs out of the suicide at the last moment, the suicide pact becomes homicide and could be a cover up for someone who just wants to get rid of a spouse or lover. As the woman would often ask the man to kill her first, this gave him the opportunity to kill her and back out at the last minute. Or there could be other variations on this. Sometimes lovers bound by a suicide pact, who were separated from each other, would do something to get himself or herself executed. The other lover might then back out of the pact as well. So the authorities made the survivors of the pacts criminals. The bodies of those who died from suicide pacts were not to be buried, but to be publicly abandoned. If the suicide pact was caught in time to be entirely unsuccessful, survivors publicly humiliated, had their social status reduced, and were forced to become servants. As plays about romanticized love suicides were basically removed from public viewing, plays about fake love suicides, portraying the matter in an entirely different light, arose. Love suicides were no longer popular in pop culture.

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