A Traveling Monk from Mt. Hiko in the Tsukushi province (today Kyushu) is traveling to Kyoto to visit Kiyomizu Temple. After the Monk’s child went missing at age seven, he became a monk. Since then, he has been traveling around the country on various pilgrimages. Having reached Kiyomizu Temple, he speaks with the Gate guard, who introduces him to a boy called Kagetsu. Upon request, Kagetsu explains the origin of his name. After singing a love song, he tries to shoot with his bow at a bush warbler in a cherry tree. However, since the Buddhist precept prevents him to take lives, he gives up. Afterward, Kagetsu recounts the origin story of Kiyomizu Temple through chant and dance. The Monk realizes that Kagetsu is his missing son, who was kidnapped by the Tengu of Mt. Hiko when he was seven. Father and son are finally reunited.
Upon being urged by the Gate guard, Kagetsu dances while striking a drum attached to his waist. He recounts how he was kidnapped by the Tengu, and how he traveled across the mountains. Finally, father and son will continue their travels on the Way of Buddha.
This play is a chance to watch various forms of entertainment that were popular in medieval Japan. First, the “kouta” (short song) entitled “That strange thing called love.” Then, the mimetic performance of Kagetsu noticing a warbler in the sakura tree and trying to shoot him down. The small bow Kagetsu uses was given to children as a toy to play with during the spring. After this are the three dance sections “kusemai” (narrative dance recounting the foundation of Kiyomizu temple), “kakko” (upbeat dance with a drum), and “yamameguri” (representing Kagetsu’s travels around the mountains). Each of these has a distinct atmosphere.
In the play, we learn that Kagetsu was kidnapped by Tengu, mythical creatures living in the mountains who practice esoteric arts and have deep knowledge of Buddhism. Kagetsu also explains the origin of his name, written with the characters for flower (ka) and moon (getsu). “Ka” is also associated with the word “inga,” meaning “retribution,” a word deeply connected with zen Buddhism.
In his performance notes, the famous nō playwright Zeami Motokiyo wrote about plays, including “Kagetsu,” in which the main character is a “hōka,” a kind of lay priest who preaches through various forms of entertainment.