This play takes place in the world of "The Tale of Genji". After the death of his beloved Ōigimi, Kaoru comes across Ōigimi's half-sister, Ukifune. As her features bear semblance to those of her sister, Kaoru quickly falls in love. He hides Ukifune in the hamlet of Uji to the south of Kyoto and visits her regularly. However, having heard rumours about the matter, Kaoru's rival, Prince Niou, decides to go and visit Ukifune himself. Torn between Kaoru and Niou and unable to think straight, Ukifune eventually chooses to end her life...
While passing through the hamlet of Uji, a priest (waki) traveling for Kyoto stumbles upon a lady (shite of act one) steering a boat on the river. The woman laments the transience of life, feeling as though she is drifting through the world like a wandering boat. Although hesitantly, the lady recounts Ukifune's tragic love story to the priest. After having described the long days that Ukifune had spent in agony, the woman tells the priest that she will wait for him in the hamlet of Ono to the north of the capital and disappears.
The priest stumbles upon a man (ai) living nearby. The local recounts the story of Ukifune in detail and recommends that the priest hold a memorial service for Ukifune's soul.
The priest travels to Ono to conduct the memorial service. He is in the middle of his sutra chanting, when the ghost of Ukifune (shite of act two) appears before him. She acts out her wretched state of stumbling through this sorrowful world, lost in her doubt and indecision. Torn between two noble men, unable to make up her mind, she eventually chose death. Ukifune describes the agony that led her to this decision and asks the priest for salvation. Thanks to the power of prayer, she finally breaks free from her feelings of attachment. As it becomes clear that it is now possible for her to be reborn in Heaven, Ukifune's ghost passes from sight.
This Noh play is based upon the Uji Chapters of "The Tale of Genji". In the novel, Ukifune is depicted to be suffering, torn between two noble men, Kaoru and Niou, who belong to the generation after Prince Hikaru Genji. Ukifune's death and her soul-crushing posthumous lovesickness represent the main plot of the Noh play. Driven mad by her pain, Ukifune's ghost recollects her love life imbued with sorrow that eventually caused her to drown herself.
However, in the end, as was the case with the priest Yokawa in the novel, she is saved once more by a passing Buddhist priest and is able to be born again in Heaven. This Noh play depicts the story of Ukifune's incessant posthumous agony and salvation through prayer.
The climax of the first half of the play is the woman's narration of Ukifune's story to the priest. Ukifune's wretched state of being torn between Kaoru and Niou is impressively represented by switching the narration between the woman and the choir. In the second half of the play, the scene changes from Uji to Ono, located at the foot of Mount Hiei.
The focal point of the second half is Ukifune's ghost acting out her state of insanity, as she was possessed by an evil spirit. Ukifune's joy upon her salvation through the priest's memorial service is masterfully conveyed by the well-judged and balanced tempo of the choir's closing chant.