It was first performed 20 June 1703. It was revived in 1717, with additional scenes added by Chikamatsu, such as the punishment of the villain, but the version typically translated and performed is the 1703 version.
The Love Suicides at Sonezaki is a short play in three scenes, staged over a day and a night. The two central characters are a young orphan merchant clerk named Tokubei (whose firm deals in oil or possibly soy) and the courtesan with whom he is in love, Ohatsu.
In the first scene, Tokubei and an apprentice to their "firm of Hirano in Uchihon Street" are making the rounds of the firm's customers, delivering their wares and collecting on the bills, when, on the grounds of the Ikutama Shrine (in Osaka), Tokubei encounters his beloved Ohatsu, who berates him for his coldness in not visiting or writing her for some time now, and also for not confiding in her troubles.
Moved by her plea, Tokubei tells her everything. The owner of the firm is Tokubei's uncle. Tokubei's scrupulously honest and steady performance has impressed him; he wants Tokubei to marry his wife's niece. Because Tokubei loves Ohatsu, he had tried to politely refuse. The uncle did not relent but continued to try to convince Tokubei to agree to the match. He proposed the match to Tokubei's stepmother, who must assent; she immediately agreed and returned to her home village – taking with her the lavish dowry the uncle provided, some two kamme (a unit of measure for silver. Two kamme would be a significant amount; writing in the 1960s, Donald Keene stated that two kamme would then be equivalent to $1000).
This agreement remains wholly unknown to Tokubei until his uncle tries to force him into the marriage. Tokubei makes his refusal categorical and absolute this time. The uncle is infuriated. He fires Tokubei from the firm, demands the return of the two kamme which Tokubei does not have, and says he will exile Tokubei from Osaka.