This play is about the times when the Taira clan prospered under the leadership of Taira no Kiyomori. A plan for overthrowing the Heike had been exposed, leading to the detainment of a number of men. Kiyomori's daughter Tokuko had become the Emperor's queen consort, and as a prayer for her successful delivery of an heir to the throne, Kiyomori has granted a general pardon to the conspirers. The amnesty officer (waki) sets sail on a mission to pardon the exiles on Kikai Island.
On Kikai Island (in present day Kagoshima Prefecture), the pious believers Fujiwara no Naritsune (tsure) and Taira no Yasuyori (tsure) are going around the island, chanting prayers of worship of the deity of Kumano.
In this moment the priest Shunkan (shite) appears and arranges a welcoming banquet for the returning pilgrims. It is the ninth day of the ninth month of the lunar calendar. Shunkan pours some water as if it were sacred chrysanthemum wine, the three men exchange cups and lament over the distant capital and their current miserable state of affairs.
The amnesty officer arrives on the island by boat. Naritsune reads the letter of general pardon aloud, but only the names of Naritsune and Yasuyori are in it. Shunkan reads the document over and over, but his name is nowhere to be seen. He breaks down in tears.
Eventually, the time comes for the ship to set sail. Shunkan clings to Yasuyori's sleeves, but the amnesty officer roughly pushes him aside. Shunkan begs to be taken at least to the next island, but the boatmen lift their oars, trying to hit him. The crew cuts loose the mooring line and sails into the sea, leaving Shunkan lying on the shore, crying his heart out. Listening to the distant voices of Yasuyori and Naritsune, giving him hope that he will eventually be pardoned and allowed to go back to the capital, Shunkan watches the ship as it disappears into the sea.
This Noh play is based on parts of the third chapter of the classic "Tale of the Heike" (in Kita school the play is called "Kikai ga Shima" (Kikai Island)). Kikai Island is the name of one of the islands in Satsunan Archipelago, Kagoshima Prefecture. In medieval times, Kikai Island was considered to be on the very edge of Japan. The despair of Shunkan for being abandoned on such a remote island is understandable. The play focuses on the change of Shunkan's state of mind through the different scenes. There is a succession of emotions expressed between the arrival of the amnesty officer and the departure of the ship.
Joy, hope, worry, despair, anger, grief - we can see the human soul reaching its emotional limits.
In Noh, masks are not usually required for the roles of adult, living men. However, there is a mask called "Shunkan" used exclusively for the role of Shunkan in this play. That is probably partly because the role is of a man who has experienced the extreme despair of an deserted island exile, and partly because in "Tale of the Heike" Shunkan is described as a shameless and arrogant man, despite the fact that he is a Buddhist priest.