The michiyuki, from Japan's puppet plays, is a literary device which catalogues in poetry the landmarks passed by two lovers as they journey away to commit suicide. This piece is based on the michiyuki that ends Chikamatsu's “The Love Suicides at Sonezaki.” Since the play was written and produced within one month of the event upon which it was based (May 22, 1703), the audience had tangible experience with both the people and places enumerated in the script. It is suggested by Donald Keene that the popularity of the play "started a vogue for love suicides...the number of such suicides, both in life and on the stage, rapidly multiplied, until in 1722 the government banned plays with the word shinju (love suicide) in the title."
Tokubei has refused to marry his uncle's niece because of his great love for the courtesan, Ohatsu. He means to return the dowry money already given to his mother, but after lending it to a shady friend, he is tricked out of it. Tokubei is disgraced and cannot remain in Osaka with Ohatsu.
“Michiyuki” (for marimba) begins when Ohatsu and Tokubei leave Osaka to commit suicide in Sonezaki. "We who walk the road to death, to what should we be likened? To the frost by the road that leads to the graveyard, vanishing with each step we take ahead." They hear the morning six o'clock bell, by seven they will be dead. The narrator responds furiously, foreshadowing their death with vehement strikes - intoning the prayer to Amida Buddha, "Namu Amida Butsu". The lovers cross Umeda Bridge (musical bird call), recalling the myth of Herd Boy and Weaver Girl, two stars who cross a bridge built by magpies to meet eachother. Across the water they hear someone singing in an upstairs teahouse. It is a ballad of a lover's suicide. Once they reach Sonezaki wood the narrator tells of spirits who fly by them like lightning flashes, ghostly companions in their travels to the afterlife. Tokubei ties Ohatsu to a tree trunk while praying "Namu Amida Butsu." The seven o'clock bell begins to sound. "Twice or thrice the flashing blade deflects this way and that until a cry tells it has struck her throat." Tokubei prays for himself and quickly slits his throat. The final bells sound and Tokubei and Ohatsu travel to the afterlife, perhaps "reborn on the same lotus" in Amida Buddha's heaven, the Pure Land. (All quoted text translated by Donald Keene.)