A priest (waki), serving at Unrin-in in Kyoto (a Buddhist temple that existed south of present day Daitoku-ji in Kita-ku), holds a memorial service for Buddha, as part of his Zen routine. All of a sudden, a woman (shite in the first act) appears and makes an offering of white flowers. She says that the flower is called yūgao (moonflower). After hinting at her identity by telling the priest that she used to live near Gojō, the woman disappears into the shadow of the flowers she had offered.
A man living near Unrin-in (ai) comes to participate in the memorial service and tells the priest the love story between Prince Hikaru Genji and Lady Yūgao from "The Tale of Genji".
He suspects that the woman the priest has met is none other than the ghost of Lady Yūgao and recommends that he should go to Gojō avenue.
After going to Gojō, the priest discovers a small cottage fenced with lattice shutters (hajitomi). From within the latticed shutters, the priest hears the voice of Yūgao's ghost (shite in the second act) singing about the autumn sunsets. The ghost of Lady Yūgao eventually lifts the shutters and reveals herself. Through song and dance, the ghost tells the story of her first encounter with Prince Hikaru Genji, when she placed a white flower on her folding fan and, calling it ‘yūgao’, presented it to him - an act which marked their union as a couple.
The ghost of Lady Yūgao remembers the poem that Prince Genji wrote for her: "If I pluck it up, will I be able to see it clearer - the dim silhouette of the moonflower at dusk.", then performs a graceful dance. Eventually the new day dawns, Lady Yūgao goes back behind the lattice shutters and the priest wakes from his dream.
This Noh play is based on the love story between Lady Yūgao and Hikaru Genji in the chapter "Yūgao" of the classical novel "The Tale of Genji". The ghost of Yūgao remembers her first encounter with Genji, whom she dearly misses, and expresses her affection for him through song and dance.
Interesting is the stage prop, depicting a lattice shutter, covered with moonflowers - the flower which gave Yūgao her name and became the symbol of her love with Genji. The mechanism for opening the shutter is also a fascinating detail. In some cases, on the lattice there may be gourds, which are in fact the moonflower's fruit.
The most fascinating point of interest is the dance of Yūgao's ghost. While dancing and singing about her love, she recites the first syllables of the poem that Genji devoted to her and begins her ‘jo-no-mai’ dance. She acts out the offering of the white moonflower to the prince, and as a whole the dance expresses Yūgao's longing for Genji's affection. As for the true identity of Yūgao's character, since in the first act she appears from and disappears into the white flower's shadow, there are interpretations that she is, in fact, the spirit of the moonflower. In the special direction "Rikka-kuyō", a real ikebana arrangement is brought up during the memorial service.
In some variations, the woman in the first act may add white flowers to the ikebana arrangement during the performance. Even when the scene changes to Gojō, the flower arrangement may be left on the stage as a beautiful decoration. The fusion of the moonflower and the character of Lady Yūgao can be felt even in the novel, but it can be said that Noh takes it one step further by expressing this unification through visual means.