A Traveling Monk (waki) from the Northern provinces and his Companions (waki-tsure) have reached Senbon in the northern part of Kyoto. As they contemplate the early winter landscape, all of a sudden rain starts falling. The monks find refuge in a nearby building. There appears a Woman (shite in the first act), who tells the monks that this place is the Rain Pavilion, where the famous poet Fujiwara Teika used to live, and recites one of his poems about rain. Then, she shows the monks the gravestone dedicated to the Imperial Princess Shokushi, covered with a type of vine called “Teika vine”. The Woman relates the love story between Teika and Shokushi. After Teika stopped visiting Shokushi, she took her life. Desperate, Teika kept visiting her grave. Finally, the Woman confesses to have appeared because of the attachment that binds her to this place, then she declares to be the spirit of Shokushi and disappears.
A Local Man (ai-kyōgen) appears, relates about the secret relationship between Teika and Princess Shoksuhi, and about Teika’s attachment. He then urges the Monks to pray for the salvation of the two lovers.
As night falls, the Monks offer a memorial service. From within the vine-covered gravestone a voice is heard, and the Ghost of Princess Shokushi (shite in the second act) appears in her real form. She rejoices from hearing the words from the Lotus Sutra, according to which the spirits of plants can also reach enlightenment. Thanks to the Lotus Sutra, the vine wrapping around the gravestone unwinds, and her spirit is momentarily released. However, as she returns to her grave, the vine branches crawl around the stone, entrapping her soul once again.
This play depicts the passionate yet tragic love story between Imperial Princess Shokushi (1149-1201), daughter of Emperor Go-Shirakawa, whose poems were included in the Shin-kokinwakashū collection, and the renown poet Fujiwara no Sadaie (also known as Teika, 1162 – 1241). Set in early winter, the play describes the secret relationship between the two, and the attachment that bound them after Shokushi died. Though the play is entitled “Teika”, his character does not appear on stage. His attachment after the death of his lover is portrayed with a stage property representing the vine that entraps the spirit of Shokushi.
The highlight of the first act is the narration of the love story between Teika and Shokushi by the Woman. While at the beginning she relates their story as an external narrator, as the story deepens her words can be interpreted both as an expression of Teika’s passion, or of Shokushi’s feelings.
The highlights of the second act are the scene in which the vine unwinds, letting Shokushi’s spirit come out, the slow “jo no mai” dance she performs, and the scene in which she returns to the depth of the grave. Thanks to the recitation of the Lotus Sutra, Shokushi could return to the world. However, in the end she returns to her grave. Though the vine represents Teika’s attachment, the spirit of Shokushi emerging from the grave could be interpreted as the spirit of the vine itself.
Both Teika and Shokushi are historical characters, yet the relationship depicted in the play is fictional. The play was written by Zeami’s son-in-law, Konparu Zenchiku (1405-1470). The play has been transmitted orally for generations and even now it is treated with utmost respect. The play is associated with “Yōkihi” and “Ōhara gokō”, in which the protagonist is a high-ranking aristocratic woman.