This tragic tale revolves around the young Japanese geisha, Butterfly. She is to be married to Pinkerton, an American Officer on assignment in Nagasaki. Butterfly is young and naive, and fully believes her marriage to Pinkerton to be true and everlasting, while Pinkerton intends on marrying an American when he returns home. Butterfly waits for Pinkerton to return, having had a child by him that he does not know about. He returns, but with his new American wife, intending to take the child back to America. Rather than live in shame, Butterfly agrees to give up her child, but intends to kill herself out of honor. She kills herself to save the honor of her family, and for love.
In Nagasaki, Japan, the U.S. Naval Officer, Pinkerton, has rented a house for him and his Japanese wife-to-be, “Butterfly.” Goro, a marriage broker, gave him a deal for the house that came with three servants, and the geisha, Butterfly, leased for 999 years, with a monthly renewal. Butterfly is a 15-year-old Japanese girl named Cio-Cio-San, the Japanese name for Butterfly. Pinkerton and Sharpless, the U.S. Consul in Nagasaki, discuss the fact that Pinkerton he is enjoying the adventure of being an American enjoying a new country experiencing any pleasure that he can.