The main character of the play is Sukeroku, a handsome townsman of the aragoto type. He is brave, arrogant, a “chivalrous commoner” who always defeats his better samurais. He is in love Agemaki, the most celebrated courtesan of the pleasure quarter. An old samurai, Ikyo, also admires Agemaki and is very jealous of Sukeroku. Agemaki, however, deeply despises Ikyo.

The play starts with a flamboyant procession of courtesans. Then Ikyo arrives and demands Agemaki’s attention; she publicly insults him. Then the sound of Sukeroku’s bamboo flute is heard. Sukeroku, in disguise, makes his entrance through the hanamichi to give his famous self-introductory speech. After that he humiliates Ikyo by offering him a pipe with his foot. In fact, Sukeroku’s trouble-making is due to the fact that a samurai sword, a heirloom of Sukeroku’s family, has been stolen. By quarrelling around the red light district he hopes to be able to discover who has the sword. By means of clever plotting, Sukeroku finally traps Ikyo into drawing his sword, which, indeed, is the stolen treasure.