A Monk is traveling along the Wakasa trail on his way to the northwestern provinces when he stops at the Ono Village north of the Capital (Kyoto). Here is where Lady Ukifune, a character appearing in the Tale of Genji, used to live. As soon as the Monk offers a prayer for Ukifune's salvation, a village woman appears and accuses him of praying only for Ukifune's salvation. She tells the Monk that this place is also related to Princess Ochiba (Princess Fallen Leaf). As the Monk recalls memories of this character, the Woman reveals herself to be Princess Ochiba’s ghost, before disappearing.
A Local Man appears and relates how, after her husband Kashiwagi died, Princess Ochiba received the favors of Genji’s son Yūgiri.
Night has fallen, and the autumn moon illuminates the lonely scene. The Ghost of Princess Ochiba appears, still suffering from her attachment to Yūgiri. She recounts how Lord Kashiwagi was in love with her younger sister, but she rejected him and married Genji. Kashiwagi ended up marrying Ochiba. After Kashiwagi died, she retired to the mountain village of Ono with her mother. One day, Genji’s son Yūgiri visited her, and the two had an affair. Lost in her memories, Princess Ochiba dances until she is overwhelmed by her emotions. The Monk offers a prayer to dispel her resentment. The Ghost soon vanishes with the mountain wind.
This play is based on episodes in The Tale of Genji, a masterpiece of classical Japanese literature depicting the romantic yet complex entanglements of Heian period court aristocrats. In the novel, Kashiwagi, son of To no chūjō, is in love with the Third Princess of Retired Emperor Suzaku, but she is married to Genji. The Emperor's older daughter is married off to Kashiwagi, despite the fact that he is still in love with the Third Princess, and treats her coldly. Kashiwagi starts calling her “Ochiba” or “Fallen Leaf.” Although they are married one to Genji and the other to the Second Princess, the Third Princess and Kashiwagi have a relationship, after which Kashiwagi dies prematurely. Genji’s son Yūgiri is asked to look after Ochiba and her mother, who have moved to the secluded village of Ono, in the mountains north of the capital. There, Ochiba and Yūgiri have an affair. In the nō play, several poems refer to this story.
In the first half of the play, the Monk prays for the memory of Ukifune, another female character in The Tale of Genji, who also resided at Ono. There, the Village Woman (in reality Ochiba) protests that Ukifune is the only one to be memorialized for having lived there. Even after her death, she complains about being neglected like a “fallen leaf,” the epithet her husband assigned her. After their affair, Yūgiri and Ochiba eventually got married. In the later part of the play, Ochiba is depicted as longing for Yūgiri’s love.
Currently, the nō play Ochiba is performed by the Kongō school only. It was revived in 1940 and, in 1961, became part of the standard repertory.