Thirteen-year-old Jiro is the son of Hanji, the puppet maker, and his disagreeable wife Isako, in feudal Japan. Times are hard, and there is a great discrepancy between the rich and the poor during these times. Hanji's family is starving, but fortunately, with the bumbling help of his son, he has finished a puppet commissioned by the theater company of Yoshida. The night before they are to deliver it, father and son treat themselves to a visit to the public baths. There, Hanji talks to a friend, Sano, who tells him that Saburo, a mysterious Robin Hood-like character, has managed an amazing burglary on the establishment of Furukawa, the rice merchant, stealing food from the rich to give to the poor (Chapter 1).
Jiro accompanies Hanji to Yoshida's theater to deliver the puppet. Yoshida himself invites them in so that he can inspect his new acquisition, and invites the two to join him in a delicious meal that has been prepared. Although Jiro knows that the invitation has been given only out of politeness and should be refused, he impetuously accepts for himself and his father, even though he knows his father will be shamed by his rude behavior. Yoshida takes a liking to the boy, commenting on his spirit, and offers him a position at the theater should Hanji give his permission. Back at home that night, Hanji discusses Yoshida's offer with his wife, pointing out that at the theater, Jiro will at least have enough to eat. To Jiro's bitter disappointment, Isako talks Hanji out of considering the offer, saying that Jiro will only embarrass them, and that the offer was only given out of politeness (Chapter 2).
The legendary Saburo pulls off another amazing heist on behalf of the poor, and the town is abuzz with the news. The new puppet Hanji has made for Yoshida is rejected, and the family is desperate for want of food and money to buy some. Jiro takes things into his own hands, running away to take Yoshida up on his offer and join his company. When he arrives at the theater, Yoshida is busy, and he is instructed to see Okada, the blind reciter. Okada hires Jiro, and Yoshida's son Kinshi befriends him. Jiro is happy, but realizes that, in reality, he has no talent for the job he is about to be asked to do, and he goes to sleep afraid (Chapter 3).