Kuruwa bunshô (Love letter from the pleasure quarter: 廓文章), written by the great playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon (近松門左衛門 1653-1725), premiered in 10/1808 at the Nakamura-za, Edo. The two-act play was one of many Yûgiri-mono (plays about Yûgiri: 夕霧物) written as sewamono (lit., "everyday pieces" or domestic dramas: 世話物) that were inspired by the real-life death of Yûgiri (夕霧 1654-1678), a celebrated pleasure-woman of the Ôgiya (扇屋) in Shinmachi, Osaka. Fujiya Izaemon (ふじや[藤屋]伊左衛門) was her wealthy young lover. Chikamatsu first dramatized their tale in his Yûgiri nagori no shôgatsu (Farewell to Yûgiri at the New Year: 夕霧名残の正月) in 1678, a month after her actual death. Some kabuki scholars consider the 1678 play as the first sewamono in Japanese theater.
The plot features Fujiya Izaemon, who has been disinherited due to his reckless behavior in the Shinmachi pleasure quarter and his love for the famous courtesan Ôgiya Yûgiri of the Yoshidaya brothel. Making matters worse, the lovers have a child together. He roams the streets aimlessly, lost in his thoughts and desire for Yûgiri, when he learns that she, too, yearns to see him. Later, however, he also hears a rumor that she has a rich patron (the samurai Aira Hiraoka, who has also adopted the lovers' child). The penniless Izaemon finally manages to gain entry to the Yoshidaya, where he imagines Yûgiri is with her new client. She joins Izaemon and greets him affectionately, but he has worked himself into such a state that his anger will not permit him to return her affections. Yûgiri waits patiently for his anger to gradually subside when, serendiptously, news reaches Izaemon that his mother has reinstated his inheritance. Messengers deliver to him a senryô-bako (box containing 1,000 gold coins: 千両箱) and other gifts so that he might ransom Yûgiri from her servitude, whereupon the house maids begin preparations for a wedding. Adding to their good fortune, their child is also returned to them.
Today, Kuruwa bunshô is performed in a manner closer to dance than to dramatic acting.
Izemon is dancing while playing a tsuzumi (hand drum: 皷or鼓) as the courtesan Yûgiri kneels before him. His black robe, decorated with calligraphy, is actually intended to represent a kamiko (kimono made with tough kôzo paper fortified with tannin, worn by the bankrupt and destitute: 紙子). Yûgiri's spectacular obi (sash: 帯) includes a large ebi (prawn: 蝦).
The setting is inside the Yoshidaya, shown with an exaggerated depth, a type of uki-e ("floating picture" or perspective view: 浮絵 or 浮繪) popular in ukiyo-e. Modeled after one-point vanishing perspective learned from the West, the horizon line was typically low and the receding space deep and sharply converged. Also called kubomi-e or "sunken pictures" for the apparent concavity of space, uki-e included both interior and landscape views. The first known uki-e date from c. 1739-40, possibly by Torii Kiyotada (鳥居清忠 act. c. 1716-1751), and immediately thereafter by Okumura Masanobu (奥村政信 1686-1768). Primary sources of inspiration were most likely imported Chinese instruction books of the 1730s based on European linear-perspective manuals, such as Shih-hsüeh ching-yün (Detailed Guide to the Study of Vision, 2nd ed., Beijing, 1735).
The preseravtion of this diptych is exceptional, with colors seemingly as fresh as when they were printed. Another impression of this diptych is in the Osaka Museum of History (Osaka Rekishi Hakubutsukan: 大阪歴史博物館) — see KNU below.
References: KNU, no. 97; KNP-7, p. 80; NKE, p. 370