In order to begin training as ascetics, a Buddhist monk from the capital (waki) and his companion (waki-tsure) travel to Mt. Haku in Takayama - a mountain range that stands between Kaga (present day Ishikawa Pref.) and Hida Province (present day Gifu Pref.). The two men arrive at Hotoke-no-hara ("Buddha's Field"), located at the foot of the mountain, and decide to spend the night in an empty thatched hut.
Suddenly, a local woman (shite of act one) appears and calls to the monk. The woman, who claims to be from Hotoke-no-hara, asks the monk to hold a memorial service for the repose of Lady Hotoke-gozen. Hotoke-gozen used to be a well-known dancer in the capital, but she eventually returned to Hotoke-no-hara and spent the rest of her days as a nun in this very hut.
A long time ago, Taira-no-Kiyomori used to love Lady Giō, who was a master of dance. However, Kiyomori's heart moved on to Hotoke-gozen, and Lady Giō was expelled from the palace. With a heavy heart, Lady Giō realised the uncertainty and transience of life and went to seek solace in the path of Buddha.
One day, when Lady Giō was still hiding and living in Saga, west of Kyoto, Hotoke-gozen, who had also become a nun, decided to pay her a visit. Though she was surprised to see her as a nun, Lady Giō was deeply moved to find that Hotoke-gozen had followed her example, and exclaimed: "You truly are Buddha".
Having listened to the whole story, the monk asks the woman to reveal her true identity. To his surprise, the woman simply says, "You shall know only if you follow me" before disappearing into the thatched hut. The baffled priest asks a local villager (ai) about his opinion on the strange encounter. Both are convinced that the woman must have been none other than the spirit of Hotoke-gozen.
Later that night, as the priest is chanting prayers, the spirit of Hotoke-gozen (shite of act two) appears by his pillow. She speaks of the transience of the human world, and, having achieved enlightenment, performs the true dance of Buddha.
"Hotoke-no-hara" is based on the story "Giō" in Chapter one of "The Tale of the Heike". "The Tale of the Heike" has the reputation of a war narrative depicting the nature of the samurai warriors, as well as the glory and downfall of the Heike clan. However, in Noh there are several works based on "The Tale of the Heike" that focus on women rather than warriors. "Hotoke-no-hara" is one of them.
In "Hotoke-no-hara", the focus is on Hotoke-gozen, the lady who won Kiyomori's favour after Lady Giō fell from grace.
The Noh play claims that Hotoke-gozen spent her final days in her hometown of Hotoke-no-hara. However, according to "The Tale of the Heike", Hotoke-gozen visited Lady Giō in her hermitage in Saga to reconcile with her, her sister Gijo, and her mother. Afterwards, Hotoke-gozen joined Lady Giō and both lived happily, chanting Buddhist sutras. Lady Giō does not appear in this Noh play, but her disillusion with the human world and its transience is voiced through the words of Hotoke-gozen. Just like Lady Giō, Hotoke-gozen was humiliated by Kiyomori, and as a result renounced the world and decided to follow the path of Buddha.
Words of suffering, hatred or jealousy are not spoken here. All that matters is that the realm of humans is an uncertain, dreamlike world where prosperity is always followed by decay.
As a manifestation of this principle, the "jo-no-mai" that Hotoke-gozen dances at the end of act two is the highlight of the whole play. At the very end, the spirit of Hotoke-gozen disappears with the words: "Right before the first step - this is Buddha's dance". It can be interpreted as "The true state of Buddhahood lies in the state of nothingness right before you begin to dance". We invite you to enjoy the spectacular, pure-hearted dance of the enlightened Hotoke-gozen.