"Jirokichi Zange" is made up of 3 acts (6 scenes). The first scene of the second act is often skipped.
Ichigaya Kameoka Hachimangű
Act I, scene 1: Ichigaya Hachiman-shita Sobaya
It is a cold winter night. At a little sobaya near the Hachiman Shrine in Ichigaya several men are warming themselves on some steaming bowls of soba. Among them is the kashihon'ya Naokichi, a book-lender who is carrying a load of books around to his customers. Actually, Naokichi is a secret agent in the payroll of the local authorities and it is his business to discover criminals while moving around in his guise as an Edo book-lender.
Presently Heijir˘, the errand boy (demae-mochi), returns to the shop after making a delivery of noodles to a customer. This Heijir˘ is in reality Jirokichi, a thief who has gained notoriety by making it a practice not to victimize the commoners but to break into the big mansions of daimy˘. When the shop's proprietor sends him off to repair a broken lock on the back gate, the men in the sobaya start to gossip about the notorious robber, who has been nicknamed Nezumi Koz˘, the Rat, because of his seeming ability to sneak into tightly locked mansions through just the tiniest cracks. Naokichi pretends not to know anything about such a notorious robber and listens with interest.
When Jirokichi returns to the room after having fixed the back gate, Naokichi looks at him narrowly and then makes a show of surprise at recognizing him as a childhood playmate. Jirokichi is startled and tries to pretend that he does not know Naokichi, but secretly he is afraid that the game is up for he too has recognized Naokichi as a childhood friend. But Naokichi puts him at ease by saying that he is happy to meet his old friend again, and makes it clear that he has no intention of arresting him.
Presently Jirokichi leaves on another errand carrying noodles to a customer, so they exchange friendly words of farewell. But soon after Jirokichi's departure, Naokichi's conscience starts bothering him. He asks the sobaya owner the direction taken by Jirokichi, and leaving his pack of books behind in the custody of the owner of the little eatery, he runs after his old friend.
Act I, scene 2: Ichigaya Sanaizaka-shita Akichi
Jirokichi is passing by an open lot down the Ichigaya Sanai slope when Naokichi calls him from behind. Jirokichi is disappointed because he thinks that Naokichi has lied to him earlier and has intended all along to arrest him afterwards. However, Naokichi says that he has sincerely wanted to let Jirokichi off, but that his righteous conscience has overcome him later. He asks Jirokichi to surrender to him as a special favor. Jirokichi has been happy to meet his old friend again and he is not entirely unaware of Naokichi's sentiments. However, he refuses to give in without a fight. As a farewell gesture, they exchange cups of sake taken from the soba delivery tray that Jirokichi has been carrying, and then start to fight each other.
The fight is a long and furious one. Then, when Naokichi takes the upper hand, Jirokichi inadvertently falls into a well (ido) in the lot, and when Naokichi tries to go after him, Jirokichi blindly lashes up with his sword and the blade cuts Naokichi who falls back. When Jirokichi pulls himself back out of the well, he finds Naokichi's dead body lying in the falling snow. A surge of regret and sadness overwhelms Jirokichi.
Act II, scene 1 : Bakur˘ch˘ Naokichi Sumika
More than a month has passed from the day Naokichi was murdered, and the flow of visitors to his home at Bakuroch˘ to pay their respects to his widow Okoma has thinned down. Okoma is a former geisha, still beautiful in spite of her emaciation. She is discussing with one of Naokichi's henchmen, Yokichi, who tells her that the suspected murderer of Naokichi is a soba delivery man named Heijir˘. The pack of books left there by Naokichi has given the investigators a lead, as the description of this Heijir˘, missing since that night, seems to fit exactly that of the notorious thief Nezumi Koz˘ who has recently been breaking into one great mansion after another. Yokichi says that it should only be a matter of time before Nezumi Koz˘ is captured. Then, telling Okoma that she is still too young and good-looking to shut herself off as a widow, he solicitously advises her to remarry after a decent interval. Then, he takes his leave.
Just as he is leaving, a palanquin (kago) arrives at the gateway and a young man dressed impeccably as a respectable member of the merchant class steps out and enters the house. He asks Okoma whether she is Naokichi's widow, but Okoma, not recognizing him as an acquaintance, is at a loss as to how to greet him. The visitor, after offering incense at the altar to the spirit of late Naokichi, introduces himself as Jirokichi, a childhood friend of Naokichi. Then he goes on to confess that he is the robber known as Nezumi Koz˘, and that he has killed Naokichi.
Okoma is of course astonished, but she is a stouthearted woman and retains her composure as she requests Jirokichi to tell her the reason for his murder as well as for his sudden visit to her. Thereupon, Jirokichi explains how he has happened to kill Naokichi and how he himself has been injured in the fight.
He also explained that he has been nursed back to health by a kind merchant who has passed by the empty lot down the Ichigaya Sanai slope. Now, he says, he has come to give himself up to Naokichi's widow so that she can thus avenge her husband's death by handing Naokichi's murderer over to the authorities.
Okoma, who has been listening intently to his long monogatari, cannot bring herself to bind him with ropes as he demands. She explains that under the circumstances, Naokichi would hardly favor such an act. As for herself, she has been struck by Jirokichi's manly attitude and has lost her feeling of grudge against Naokichi's murderer. Moreover, as they are discussing, they finally recognize each other. They have known each other when Okoma has still been a geisha. Okoma urges the reluctant Jirokichi to make his escape, and in the event that flight is impossible, she says she will offer him hiding in her own house!
At this point, a gokenin named Sakura Kichinosuke comes to the house accompanied by a good-for-nothing man named Akahada no Heiz˘, so Okoma sends Jirokichi scurrying into another room while she explains to the newcomers that he is her uncle who has come in from the country to visit Naokichi's grave. It turns out that Sakura, knowing that Okoma has once been a geisha, has come to make a deal with her to become his mekake, bringing Heiz˘ to take the role of go-between. The two of them try to persuade her to abandon her prudish attitude, but Okoma coldly refuses to have anything to do with them.
Act III, scene 1: Koishikawa H˘renji Kuri
The osh˘ Mukan of H˘renji Temple  in Koishikawa comes to the temple cemetery leading Jirokichi who has come to visit Naokichi's grave. Mukan asks Denroku, the cemetery caretaker, to conduct Jirokichi to Naokichi's grave. This Denroku is in reality a robber (nusubito) in disguise. As the two move off, Mukan is accosted by Naokichi's henchman Yokichi, who has been trailing Jirokichi because he suspects him of being Naokichi's killer. He asks the priest to show him the money which Jirokichi has given him as offering to the temple, and then requests that the priest shows him a good hiding place in the temple precincts. The priest is bribed to keep his mouth shut and he hides Yokichi in a storage shack.
Presently Jirokichi returns to the quarters (kuri) of a head priest with Denroku. They sit down nearby to smoke, and then cautiously reveal their mutual recognition of each other. Denroku explains that he took the job as cemetery caretaker in order to escape the eyes of the police. He correctly surmises that Jirokichi is the man who has killed Naokichi, and asks why the murderer should be so tearfully paying his respects to the victim's grave. When Jirokichi says that he plans to go straight, old Denroku shrewdly surmises that Jirokichi has fallen in love, although Jirokichi does not admit to it. Suddenly, Jirokichi shows concern about the storage shack. He has the feeling that someone is hiding there and he flings its door open. Yokichi jumps out to catch Jirokichi, but Jirokichi eludes him and makes off.
Act III, scene 2: Yushima Rokuch˘me Okoma Sumika
It is late that same day, and, at Okoma's new home in Yushima, her mother Otoku, alone at home, is bowing apologetically to the gokenin Sakura Kichinosuke. The man is asking for Okoma as his mekake, and Otoku is turning him down. Finally, Sakura begins to speak nastily and says that if Okoma refuses his offer, there must be another man on the scene. He reveals that he knows Okoma often shelters a man in her house, and says that the man named Jirokichi is actually a major thief. Otoku is startled, for Okoma has never told her mother Jirokichi's real identity, only introducing him as an old acquaintance from her geisha days. Sakura leaves Okoma's home, muttering that the two women will soon regret not having taken up his offer.
When Okoma returns home, Otoku tells her of Sakura's visit and what he has said. At this, Okoma decides to tell the truth to her mother. She deeply apologizes and she explains tearfully how she has been unable to hand Jirokichi over to the authorities as he has requested. Moreover, she has eventually fallen in love with him. Mother and daughter are weeping together when Jirokichi suddenly appears before them. The house has been thoroughly locked up for the night but he could sneak in, explaining that it would have been too dangerous to come to the front door. He is here in order to say his farewell to both Okoma and her mother. There is little chance for him now to escape, so he again asks Okoma to bind him with a rope and hand him over to the authorities who will soon be here after him. But neither Okoma nor Otoku can bring themselves to do it until Jirokichi takes out a rope and forces Okoma to tie his wrists with it. Full of emotion, he thanks Okoma for her love, which has made the past three months the happiest time in his life. Outside, there is already pounding on the front door. Soon the pursuers break into the house, and tearfully Okoma is forced to hand Jirokichi over.
The actors Onoe Kikugor˘ VI (left) and Onoe Taganoj˘ III (right) playing the roles of the thief Nezumi Koz˘ Jirokichi and Naokichi's wife Okoma in the drama "Jirokichi Zange", which was staged in May 1928 at the Shinbashi Enbuj˘
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