Pinkerton, an officer in the US Navy stationed in Japan, acquires a young wife through a marriage broker. Cio-Cio San has actually fallen in love with Pinkerton and does not understand that the arrangement is a temporary one. Pinkerton returns home, the years go by, and Cio-Cio San continues to wait for his ship to return.
Finally, the ship does arrive, but it brings a devastating disappointment to Cio-Cio San: Pinkerton now has an American wife, and they have returned to Japan only to take Pinkerton’s child back with them. Heartbroken and dishonoured, Butterfly picks up her father’s dagger and takes her own life.