A group of Yamabushi (mountain priests, waki and waki-tsure) from Mt. Haguro in Dewa (Yamagata pref.) is on a pilgrimage to Kazuraki Shrine on Mt. Kazuraki (between Nara and Osaka). Snow starts falling, preventing them to continue their travel. Suddenly a Woman (shite in the first act) appears from the snowstorm and calls on the Priests, offering them a place where they can take cover. The Woman unbundles a bunch of twigs she was carrying and uses it to light a fire. Then she explains that the name of Mt. Kazuraki, derives from the Kazura vine used to make this bundle, called shimoto. She then recites the verses “On Mt. Kazuraki, where I bundle shimoto, the snow keeps falling, as I keep thinking of you”. Night falls. As the Priests prepare for their evening rituals, the Woman reveals to be the Deity of Mt. Kazuraki and asks the Priests to relieve her of her torment. Long ago, En-no-Gyōja (the mythical founder of “shugen-dō”, the ascetic practice that yamabushi priests follow) ordered the Deity of Kazuraki to build a bridge between Mt. Kazuraki and another sacred place, destination of yamabushi pilgrimage, Mt. Ōmine. However, since she was ashamed of her appearance, she only built the bridge at night. As a consequence, she could not complete the bridge, and En-no-Gyōja punished her by binding her with vines. After telling this story, the Woman vanishes.
A Local Man passing by meets the Priests and recounts the story of the Deity of Kazuraki and the stone bridge. As the Priests pray, the Deity of Kazuraki appears, with vines creeping over her body. The Deity reminisces about the mythical time when the goddess Uzume danced the in front of the Heavenly Cave to lure out the Sun Goddess who was hiding inside it. Then, she starts dancing. Soon dawn breaks and the Deity disappears into the mountain.
The play reflects the syncretic nature of the shugen-dō religious system, fusing Buddhism with pre-existent beliefs in natural forces, currently systematized as shintō. Although the protagonist of the story is the deity of a mountain, she is being punished as a woman according to Buddhist interpretations that consider females as being farther removed from enlightenment.
In the first act, the Woman chants, expressing her complex feelings, between sympathy toward her guests and sadness for her condition. Later, she performs the act of lighting the fire through dance accompanied by the chorus. The image of the moon-lit snowy peaks of Mt. Kazuraki pervades the second act.
The Deity of Mt. Kazuraki appears as a male character in the Kojiki and in the Nihon shoki, collections of the origin myths of Japan. In nō, female characters are often troubled by the fact that they cannot reach enlightenment without being reborn as males first. In this play, the Deity of Kazuraki appears as a woman who, living alone in the deep of the mountain, does not hesitate to offer lodging to the group of travellers. The purity of her heart is symbolized by the whiteness of the snowy landscape lit by the moon.
The theme connecting the first and the second act is the ancient yamato mai poem-song, contained in the Kokin-wakashū poem anthology. It is said that this kind of verses were sung by the myriad of gods who gathered around the entrance of the Heavenly Cave where Amaterasu, the Sun-Goddess, was hiding. In the Japanese middle-ages it was though that the Heavenly Cave and other mythical places were located on Mt. Kazuraki. In this play the Deity of Kazuraki demonstrates in front of the Priests how the gods danced and chanted around the Heavenly Cave in order to lure the Sun Goddess out of it.
There are several performance variants of this play. While in the standard version the jo no mai slow-tempo dance is performed, in some variants the kagura (“sacred dance”) is performed instead. Other variants feature a stage property representing Mt. Kazuraki, or a special coronet with red vines.