The play is set in Wei Dynasty China (3rd c.). Miraculous water is found to spring forth at the foot of Mt. Rekken (or Tekken) and Emperor Wen sends an Imperial Envoy to investigate the source of the mysterious stream. The Envoy and his followers climb the mountain and find a hut surrounded by chrysanthemum flowers. A Youth is living inside the hut. Surprised to find a young boy living alone so deep in the mountains, the Envoy asks for his name. The Youth replies that he is a page serving King Mu of the Zhou Dynasty (who reigned in the 10th century BC - over one thousand years before) and shows the Envoy the pillow he received as a gift from his lord. Sacred words from a Buddhist prayer are inscribed on it. The Youth explains how he copied the prayer on chrysanthemum leaves as a spiritual exercise, a practice that granted him immortality. The dewdrops accumulating on the leaves turn into an elixir of eternal life and drip into the stream that reaches the foot of the mountain. The Youth praises the virtue of the sutra pillow and dances among the chrysanthemums before returning to his hut.
The background of the story is not told in the play. The Youth used to serve King Mu, but one day he inadvertently stepped on the King’s pillow, an offense that was punished with exile on Mt. Tekken. The severe punishment had to be executed, but the King, who was fond of the boy, gave him a special keepsake: a pillow on which he inscribed quotes from the Lotus Sutra. Alone in the mountains, the Youth repeatedly copied the sacred words, practice that yielded miraculous results.
Another important element of the play is the belief, shared both in China and in Japan, that chrysanthemum flowers and sake (rice wine) have miraculous properties. The 9th day of the 9th month used to be celebrated as “chōyō no sekku”, or Chrysanthemum Festival. As it is said that “sake is the best medicine”, chrysanthemum rice wine represents a powerful combination of the two elements.
Only the Kanze school calls this play ‘Kiku-jidō’ (lit. ‘Chrysanthemum Youth’. In the Hōshō, Komparu, Kongō and Kita repertory the same play goes by the name of ‘Makura-jidō’ (lit. ‘Pillow Youth’).
Mt. Tekken is located in the Chinese province of Henan. The dance performed in the latter part of the play, called “gaku”, is recognizable for its numerous rhythmical foot stamps, and is associated with Chinese characters. The mimetic dance after the “gaku”, in which the boy drinks sake, offers it to the Envoy, and plays among the flowers, is one of the highlights of the play. The masks used are either “jidō” or “dōji”, representing the face of a handsome youth.