At the battle of Dan-no-ura, which led to the destruction of the Heike clan, Lady Kenrei-mon, the daughter of Taira-no-Kiyomori and consort of Emperor Takakura, attempted to drown herself together with her young child, Emperor Antoku. However, she was rescued by samurai of the Genji clan. After these events, Lady Kenrei-mon became a Buddhist nun and spent her days quietly praying for the deceased members of the Heike clan at Jakkō Temple in Ōhara, near the capital, together with her ladies in waiting - Dainagon-no-Tsubone and Awa-no-Naishi.
One day, the retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa decides to visit Lady Kenrei-mon. His retainer (waki-tsure) urges the servant (ai) to go ahead and prepare the road for the Emperor to pass.
Lady Kenrei-mon (shite) has gone out together with Dainagon-no-Tsubone (tsure) to pick anise blossoms to present as an offering to Buddha. Only Awa-no-Naishi (tsure) is in the hermitage when the retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa (tsure), together with Minister Made-no-Kōji (waki) and his palanquin bearers (waki-tsure), arrives at Ōhara. Eventually, Lady Kenrei-mon and Dainagon-no-Tsubone return from the mountain. The ladies meet the Emperor for the first time in many years and all weep as they recall the good old days. There had been a rumour that Lady Kenrei-mon has experienced Rokudō, the Six Realms of the Buddhist afterworld, in real life.
In answer to the Emperor's inquiry, Lady Kenrei-mon starts narrating her story, comparing the fall of the Heike clan to the Six Realms of the afterworld. Next, the retired Emperor asks after Emperor Antoku's death. Lady Kenrei-mon narrates the full account of the infant Emperor's end - how he drowned himself following the example of his grandmother, Nii-dono.
Eventually, prompted by Minister Made-no-Kōji, the retired Emperor returns to the capital. Lady Kenrei-mon sees the procession off and returns to her hermitage.
The play "Ohara-gokō" covers the final volume of "The Tale of the Heike", the novel that depicts the war between the Taira and Minamoto clans. Among all "third-group" Noh plays, in which the main character is a graceful woman, this is the only one not featuring a dance of the shite actor. Instead, the main focus falls on shite's vivid narration of the story. There is a theory that the play was originally intended to be a song.
The last volume of "The Tale of the Heike", called "The Initiates' Book", depicts the life of Lady Kenrei-mon Tokuko after the Battle of Dan-no-ura.
It tells of the retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa's visit at Jakkō Temple in Ōhara, during which Lady Kenrei-mon recounts the whole story of the Heike clan's final moments. Having done that, she is able to die peacefully. In one of the schools of the Biwa-hōshi, the blind lute players who popularised "The Tale of the Heike", this particular volume was handed down in secret, and was regarded as the pinnacle of the "art of the narrative performance".
The most acoustically compelling part is Lady Kenrei-mon's account of the downfall of the Heike clan. Particularly touching is the scene depicting the infant Emperor Antoku's drowning. In the role of the listener, Emperor Go-Shirakawa prompts Lady Kenrei-mon to bring forth her narrative.
Dressed as a nun, Lady Kenrei-mon speaks in a quiet voice revealing that she has come to terms with her fate, but the retired Emperor's cruel questions make her relive the horror of her clan's annihilation. Lady Kenrei-mon likens the fall of the Heike to "Rokudō", the Six Realms of the Buddhist afterworld. These Six Realms are: Hell; Starving demons; Beasts; Asuras; Humans and Heaven. A soul can be reincarnated in any of them depending on the karma it has accumulated in life.
Immerse yourselves in the scene of the Heike clan's ruin, beautifully constructed through Lady Kenrei-mon's narrative.