The play is set in Tang dynasty China (7th-10th century), at Emperor’s Gensō’s (Xuanzong) Moon Palace. A Court Official announces that preparations for celebrating the New Year are underway. Aristocrats, ministers and retainers gather in front of the jeweled throne. As it happens every year, a Crane and a Tortoise, mythical animals symbolizing long life, appear in the palace pond and wish the Emperor long life and prosperity. Then, they dance in celebration. Delighted by the performance, the Emperor raises from his throne and performs various dances songs before returning to the Long-Life Pavilion.
Tsurukame is a celebratory piece without a strong storyline. Plays of this category are often staged in combination with the ritual performance Okina. The appearance of Crane and Tortoise, and the dance of the Emperor are prayers for peace and prosperity that extends to the audience attending the performance.
The highlights of Tsurukame are the dance of the Crane and Tortoise, and the dance of the Emperor. Crane and Tortoise are performed by actors wearing headpieces representing the mythical animals. The perform a lively dance called chū-no-mai, or mid-tempo dance.
The Emperor performs a dance called gaku, which only features plays that are set in China. Later, the lyrics mention the song-dance Rainbow Skirt and Feather Dress. According to a legend, the Emperor himself wrote this piece after flowing to the moon and seeing the dance of the Moon Maidens.