Emperor Ichijō has seen a miraculous dream telling him to order a sword by Munechika, also known as The Little Swordsmith (Kokaji). An Imperial Envoy named Tachibana no Michinari is on his way from the Imperial Palace to Munechika’s forge, to deliver the Emperor’s order.
Although Munechika is an artisan of legendary skill, he does not have an assistant that is necessary in order to forge the sword. Munechika is unsure whether he should take on the job or not, so he decides to ask the guidance of the Deity of Mt. Inari at Fushimi, his family’s tutelary shrine. There, he meets a mysterious Boy, who knows not only Munechika’s name but also about the Emperor’s order. The Boy tells stories of magic swords of ancient China and Japan, encouraging Munechika to take on the commission and promising to come himself to help him with divine power. Then he suddenly vanishes into the mists on Mt. Inari. In the interlude, Munechika’s Servant appears and summarizes what happened in the first act. In the second act, Munechika comes home and is preparing his forge for sword making, when suddenly the Deity of Mt. Inari himself arrives. The Deity serves as Munechika’s assistant for the production of a fabulous sword, beating the second hammer skilfully in time. When the sword is finished, in addition to Munechika’s seal, the Deity inscribes the words “Little Fox” on the reverse and gives the sword to Michinari for delivery to the Emperor.
The highlights of the play are the youth’s narration of legendary swords of the past, as well as the scene in which the Inari Deity serves as second hammer to Munechika in forging a new sword blade. The central focus of the section on sword legends is the story of Yamato Takeru, who in eighth-century chronicles like the Kojiki is said to have conquered Japan’s eastern wilds using a magic sword called Grass Cutter (Kusanagi). The sword Grass Cutter is one of the Three Imperial Treasures of Japan to this day, in which context it is also known as Gathering Clouds of Heaven (Ama no Murakumo). This narration begins slowly and quickly picks up tempo. Soon it becomes clear that this is no ordinary Boy, but rather an avatar of the Inari Deity.