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Kabuki is spectacular and you don’t have to know anything to enjoy it. But a little bit of information about a few of the terms and the plays makes it even better.
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Chikagoro Kawara no Tatehiki / 近頃河原の達引
—Oshun and Denbei—

Popularly known as "Horikawa," this is one of many works about the love suicide of Oshun and Denbei at the end of the 17th century, which was told in kabuki plays, popular fiction and ballads. This particular version comes from a 1782 puppet play that was first performed at the Geki-za theater in Edo and is notable for combining the story of Oshun and Denbei with the character of a performer with trained monkeys. This was inspired by a real life incident at the time when a performer with trained monkeys living in the Horikawa district of Osaka was awarded by the authorities for his filial piety. The play is noted for the kudoki lament of Oshun which begins "sore wa kikoenu Denbei-san (I can't let you do that Denbei)" when Oshun will not allow Denbei to go and die by himself. It is said that these first words became a popular catchphrase. The play is also noted for the performance by the monkeys when Oshun's brother sends off the couple.

A merchant named Izutsuya Denbei and a courtesan named Oshun are childhood sweethearts and he is planning to buy out her contract and make her his wife. But he has a rival in love who is a samurai that tries to trick Denbei to get the money to ransom Oshun. In a fight in the riverbed, Denbei ends up killing the samurai and must become a fugitive.

Afraid that Denbei will break into the brothel and take Oshun by force, the brothel owner returns Oshun to her home in the riverbed of Horikawa. She is happy to be reunited with her blind mother and her older brother Yojiro, who is a performer with monkeys, but worries about Denbei. Late that night, Denbei arrives and Yojiro tries to protect Oshun from him, but in the confusion, pushes Oshun outside and Denbei inside. When things calm down, Denbei says that he must die to atone but asks Oshun to go on living. In her famous kudoki lament, Oshun says she absolutely will not let him die alone. Finally, Oshun's mother asks them to go far away and live as long as they can together and if they must die, let it be somewhere far away. Yojiro has his monkeys perform a comic wedding as Oshun and Denbei exchange a toast of marriage and then they leave, eventually to commit suicide together.

Kari no Tayori / 雁のたより
—The Love Letter—

This is the ultimate play in the Kamigata style. It was originally a short routine written by the kabuki actor Nakamura Utaemon III under his pen name of Kanazawa Ryugoku and which was inserted into a totally unrelated play. It is mostly a series of comic routines that change according to the talents of the performers.

It shows a barber with the improbable name of Sanni Goroshichi ("Three-Two Five-Six-Seven) who has a popular shop at the Arima hot springs. He is secretly fond of the mistress of a samurai lord who is staying at the neighboring inn, but knows she is too far above him. Then his friend Otama, the proprietress of a nearby teahouse, gives him a letter. She says that the mistress has fallen in love with him and asked her to deliver this letter. At first, Goroshichi is very suspicious that this letter is a trick, but when he finally opens it, he find that it says that she wants him to sneak into the inn by the rear garden and see her tonight. Goroshichi's joy at the letter is one of the showpieces of the play as he embraces the letter, uses like a lover's concealing scarf, and does all kinds of comic things with the letter.

But it turns out that the letter is indeed a trap. The lord's mistress was actually attracted to Goroshichi and the lord has engineered this false letter to get rid of his rival. Goroshichi no sooner sneaks into the inn than he is captured and tied up by the lord's men. But the matter is investigated by the lord's chief retainer, who also wants to cure the lord of being a playboy. He calls the lord's mistress Tsukasa. She is shocked to see Goroshichi tied up, but when she sees the letter, says that her writing has been forged. The chief retainer releases Goroshichi, telling him never to do this again. But the play ends with a dizzying series of events. The chief retainer suddenly attacks Goroshichi with a spear. Surprisingly, Goroshichi defends himself handily. It turns out that Goroshichi originally came from a samurai family famous for its spear fighting and that Goroshichi ran away as a boy to become a barber. The chief retainer is his uncle. Then it turns out that Tsukasa is the woman he was supposed to marry. The play ends as Goroshichi and Tsukasa are happily united.