The background of the play is the war between the rival Minamoto and Taira clans. Yoshinaka, a warrior belonging to the Minamoto clan descended from Kiso with his army and entered the Capital (Kyoto), where he successfully subdued the Taira clan. However, due to a disagreement with other clansmen, Yoshinaka was driven out of the city. Chased by a group of Minamoto warriors, he retreated to Awazu, near Lake Biwa, where he was overpowered by his enemies. Before dying, Yoshinaka gave a keepsake to his retainer and lover, the female warrior Tomoe Gozen, requesting that she keep on living.
Years have passed since Yoshinaka died. A group of Monks from Kiso are on their way to Kyoto. As they travel across the Awazu plain, they notice a Woman crying in front of a small shrine under a pine tree. The shrine is dedicated to Yoshinaka, the Minamoto warrior from Kiso. The Woman reveals to be a spirit and asks the Monks to pray for Yoshinaka’s salvation, before leaving. The same night, the Ghost of Tomoe Gozen appears, dressed in her warrior garb. She praises Yoshinaka’s bravery and recounts the events leading to his suicide. Though Tomoe wanted to join her lord in death, Yoshinaka made her promise that she would keep living. Unable to accept that she survived him, Tomoe re-enacts the last battle she fought for Yoshinaka, Finally, she urges the monks to release her from her attachment, before disappearing.
The play centers on Tomoe Gozen, the female warrior appearing in the warrior chronicle “Tales of the Heike”, a character celebrated even today for her outstanding bravery and beauty. In the play, Tomoe is portrayed both as a strong warrior, brandishing a large halberd, and a mournful retainer, lamenting being left behind while her lord took his life. One interpretation of the story may attribute the reason for Tomoe’s lament for being left alive to Yoshinaka’s inability to see her as a lover. Or, Tomoe may feel miserable because she could not fulfil her mission as a retainer, dying with her lord. Perhaps both interpretations are possible, and it is this double role in her relationship with Yoshinaka that makes this character and play particularly interesting. Yoshinaka wished that at least Tomoe survived, so he ordered her to escape.Though Tomoe understood Yoshinaka’s reasoning, she felt guilty for not having been able to avenge her lord.