Takashi-no-Shiro of Hitachi Province (now Ibaraki Pref.) is a samurai serving Lord Hiramatsu. After his lord died, he took in the lord's orphaned son, Shunmitsu. Today is the anniversary of Lord Hiramatsu's death. While Takashi is at the temple to burn incense in memory of his lord, his servant brings a letter from Shunmitsu. The letter says that Shunmitsu is becoming a Buddhist monk in order to mourn his parents, so Takashi should not look for him. Surprised, Takashi grieves for Shunmitsu, who left him and ran away from home despite the fact that they were master and servant, bound by the Oath of the Three Worlds (a bond spanning their previous, present, and next lives).
He decides to set out on a journey to find Shunmitsu.
The scene shifts to Mount Kōya in Kii Province (now Wakayama Pref.). Shunmitsu, who has now been ordained, arrives at the famous Trident Pine of Mt. Kōya, accompanied by a priest. There he meets Takashi, who has since lost his mind, gone mad with worry for Shunmitsu. The monk tells him to "leave the mountain", to which Takashi replies: "You cannot make me leave the place where Kōbō-Daishi, the founder of the Shingon school of Buddhism, fell into eternal meditation". The monk asks him a few other questions, and Takashi answers them with a notable erudition in the teachings of Buddha.
He then dances while recounting the story of the Trident Pine and praising the sacred Kōya Mountain. His worry for his master Shunmitsu grows so strong that he forgets that this is an area where song and dance are prohibited.
Finally, the servant and master recognise each other, and Takashi decides to follow Shunmitsu's example and become a monk himself.
In the current tradition of Kanze school, although Shunmitsu lives at Mt. Kōya, he has not been ordained yet. The play ends with servant and master leaving the mountain after their reunion, and Shunmitsu succeeding his father as the head of the family.
Takashi arrives at Kōyasan in a state of ‘mono-gurui’, or "madness". In Noh, ‘mono-gurui’ refers to the state of a person (or the person himself) who has lost someone dear to them and has become distraught with grief. On their journey to find their loved ones, ‘mono-gurui’ express their feelings through song and dance. Most often the lost person is a child, a lover, or a spouse, but this piece is unique because it centers the bond between master and servant - the servant being distraught with grief for his young master.
The setting for the play, Kongōbu Temple in Mt. Koya, is the head temple of the Shingon school of Buddhism, founded during the Heian period by the monk Kōbō Daishi - Kukai (774-835 AD).
In particular, the play focuses on the "Trident Pine" - a place closely related to the legend of Kōbō Daishi. The term "eternal meditation" (‘jūjō’), mentioned in the chant, generally refers to the death of a high priest, but it is believed that Kōbō Daishi did not die at Mt. Kōya. Rather, he is waiting at the temple's inner sanctuary for Bodhisattva Maitreya to appear in this world.
The author of this play is Zeami, who has directly integrated a stand-alone chant called "Kōya-no-Kusemai", created by his son, Kanze Motomasa. This particular ‘kuse-mai’ is performed by Takashi as he acts out his state of madness.
Nowadays, ‘kuse-mai’ is simply referred to as ‘kuse’, and it includes chants about the Trident Pine and the origins of Mt. Kōya, as well as descriptions of the holy precincts which are a testament to the teachings of Buddha. The depth of faith demonstrated in the ‘kuse’ seems to overlap with Takashi's deep devotion to his lord.
Genroku book's performance is based on a chant book published during the Genroku era (1688-1704) of the Edo period. The chant books in Kanze School were later revised during the Meiwa era (Meiwa Books). That's why in the earlier version Shunmitsu has not been ordained, and the play ends with servant and master leaving the mountain after their reunion and Shunmitsu succeeding his father as the head of the family.
Nowadays Kanze School usually performs the play adhering to the Meiwa Book. However, today's special performance is based on the earlier, Genroku era version.