The play was one of many shinjû mono (double suicide plays), possibly based on a retelling of actual events.
Obiya Chôemon, a married, 40-year-old obi merchant in Kyoto, falls in love with Ohan, his neighbor's
14-year-old daughter, and their affair results in her pregnancy. Chôemon's stepmother and stepbrother Gihei
object to the liason and try to discredit Chôemon — with the goal of substituting Gihei in his place as family heir. They confront Chôemon with a love letter written by Ohan and addressed to
"Chô." Chôemon's wife, Okinu — remaining loyal to her husband — knows of the
affair and the letter, and persuades a young clerk whose name, Chôkichi, uses the same first character, to pretend
to be the intended recipient and falsely confess. The ruse works, but later a despairing Ohan leaves hurriedly.
Chôemon runs out after her as far as the gate, but then returns to examine a letter she has left behind. He reads
that Ohan has decided to kill herself, and he vows to join her in death. Soon afterwards the lovers drown themselves in
the Katsura River.
The play title is written in the tricolor banner at the top right; it may be translated as "Union by the weir in
the Katsura River," a reference to the final "union" — the lovers' suicide. Yoshitaki has
depicted Ohan holding the farewell letter, which she will soon leave for Chôemon and then speed away to the
Katsuragawa. She wears ornamental hairpins with tassles (called bira-bira kanzashi, or "fluttering
hairpins"). The decorative cloud forms in the background are rendered as kanoko ("fawn spot")
This print was one of several similar compositions featuring actor portraits within roundels and libretti pictured above,
published from circa late 1850s to 1863 by Honsei and designed by Yoshitaki, Enjaku, and Hironobu. The publisher's double
seals (with the round red seal hand-stamped — see detail at right) may indicate that this ôban design was considered a special
edition. The strong woodgrain in the blue roundel can be taken as a sign of an early impression.
References: KNP-7, p. 85