The wife (shite of act one) of Lord Kashiwazaki of Echigo Province (now Niigata Pref.) has been waiting for her husband, who has gone to Kamakura for a lawsuit. However, Lord Kashiwazaki's retainer Kotarō (waki) returns alone. His master has died suddenly in Kamakura and he has come to tell his wife about it. Kotaro hands her a memento of her husband and a letter from their only son, Hanawaka (ko-kata). Hanawaka accompanied the lord to Kamakura, but stricken with grief over the loss of his father, decided to embark on a journey and become a Buddhist monk.
Broken-hearted over the loss of both her husband and her child, the wife is driven to madness.
Around that time, her son Hanawaka is spending his days praying for the repose of his father's soul while doing ascetic training at Zenkō Temple in Shinano Province (now Nagano Pref.). One day, Hanawaka visits the temple's Nyorai Sanctuary with his master priest (waki-tsure). There, a madwoman (shite of act two) arrives and causes a commotion. This turns out to be Hanawaka's mother, whom he had left behind.
The madwoman enters the inner sanctum of the Nyorai Hall, which is forbidden to women, and makes an offering consisting of an ‘eboshi’ hat and a ‘hitatare’ robe - mementos of her deceased husband. She then puts them on and dances in front of the altar. The priest, who had been watching her acting out her madness, takes pity on the woman and tells her that her son Hanawaka is here with him. Mother and son are reunited and rejoice in each other's embrace.
This play is set at Zenkō Temple in Nagano Prefecture - it is an old temple said to have been built during the Asuka Period (592-628). It was patronised by people all around the Kōshin-etsu region, but also by many Kyoto aristocrats, because it offered salvation not only to men, but also women. Many women traveled all the way from Kyoto to visit the temple. According to the popular Buddhist doctrine in Japan, women were considered to be the furthest from Buddha because of their innate impurity and earthly passions.
In the times when such beliefs were common, Zenkō Temple aimed to save women. Women from all over Japan prayed to Zenkō Temple's Amida Nyorai to help them easily attain Buddhahood after death. The shite in "Kashiwazaki" comes to Zenkō Temple at the peak of her madness because it is the only place where she could find salvation.
The scene in the latter half of the play, in which the shite dances wearing the garments left as a memento by her husband, is the main highlight of the play. The ‘hitatare’ robe mentioned in the lyrics is a medieval warrior's kimono, but in the play, a ‘chōken’ robe is used instead of a ‘hitatare’.
The ‘chōken’ is a semi-transparent woven fabric, and although it is generally used for the costumes of female roles, it is sometimes used for male roles as well. The type of dance that a female character does in a man's costume is called ‘utsuri-mai’ (imitation dance). As the woman puts on her husband's clothes, the spirit of her deceased beloved possesses her body and the two dance as one. This type of dance can also be seen in other works, such as "Izutsu", as an expression of the shite's affection for her beloved.