Fujiwara Okinori, Head Priest of Miyazaki Shrine (Miyazaki pref.) is on a pilgrimage to Ise Shrine. On his way there he stops at Suma Bay in Settsu (Osaka pref.). As he observes a young cherry tree in bloom, he meets an Old Man who tells him that the tree is related to Hikaru Genji, the “Shining Prince,” who is the protagonist of the literature classica “The Tale of Genji.” He then relates stories about Genji’s life: after achieving great popularity during his youth, Genji fell off out of favor at court, and went on voluntary exile to Suma. However, he was soon called back to the Capital and ultimately rose to the rank of “Honorary Retired Emperor.” The Old Man reveals to be the Spirit of Hikaru Genji, now in Heaven, and promises that he will appear in his real form tonight.
Okinori prepares to spend the night here at Suma Bay. Soon, the sound of a flute is heard, and Genji’s spirit descends from heaven in his court garb. Genji praises the scenery at Suma Bay and dances, reminiscing the past. He reveals that he descends from Heaven to help humans achieve salvation. Finally, as dawn breaks, he disappears.
The main character of the play is the protagonist of “The Tale of Genji,” Hikaru Genji. The young cherry appearing in the first act is a tree that Genji himself planted during his stay at Suma. In the “Suma” chapter of the Tale, Genji is moved as he watches the young cherry tree, reminding him of his happy days in Kyoto. Likewise, in the play the Old Man reminisces the past as he watches the young cherry.
The highlight of the first act is the chant section quoting chapter titles from the “Tale of Genji” (Kiritsubo, Hahakigi, Utsusemi, etc.), evocative of Genji’s glory days.
Suma Bay is famous for moon-viewing. In the second half of the play, the image of the moon and that of the Heavens in which Genji’s spirit resides overlap. The image of Miroku Bosatsu (Maitreya), also known as the “Future Buddha,” who will appear to help humans achieve salvation, is projected onto Genji.
Moreover, in the second act the shite performs the “haya mai” (fast-paced dance). This passage is evocative of an episode in the Momiji-no-ga chapter, in which Genji dances under the falling autumn leaves.
Fujiwara Okinori, appearing in the play, is a Heian period aristocrat, editor of the “Gosen Wakashū” poetry collection. However, Miyazaki Shrine seems to be an invention of the author of the play, which is anonymous, though it could have been at least edited by Zeami Motokiyo (1363-1443).