An Imperial Envoy and his retinue have come to Arashiyama to enjoy the cherry trees in full bloom. Suddenly, an elderly couple who takes care of the cherry trees appears. They bow before the cherry trees. Seeing this, the Envoy is surprised and asks them to explain the reason for this gesture. The couple says that the cherry trees of Arashiyama actually come from Mt. Yoshino in Nara, where they are protected by gods and buddhas. That is why their flowers don’t scatter even when a strong wind (in Japanese “arashi”) blows. Finally, they declare to be the deities of Yoshino Komori and Katsute. Soon evening falls and the two deities disappear on clouds in the southern sky.
A lesser deity appears and tells the origin story of the cherry trees of Arashiyama, then dances in celebration.
As night falls, the deities Komori and Katsute reappear in their real form before the Envoy and his retinue. Suddenly a blinding light shines on the place and Zao Gongen, the guardian deity of Mt. Kinpu in Yoshino appears. The gods frolick among the cherry trees, praising the beauty of spring.
“Arashiyama” is one of the most spectacular nō plays, featuring a large stage property representing the cherry trees in the middle of the stage. While the first half of the play focuses on narration, the second half is more dynamic. First Komori and Katsute appear carrying a cherry branch and perform a soft synchronized dance. By contrast, Zao Gongen displays his supernatural power with strong movements.
The play is famous to be performed in an alternative staging called “hakutō” (or “shirogashira”, meaning “white head”) in which Zao Gongen wears a white wig to symbolize greater wisdom. In the “sarumuko” (“monkey groom”) variant of the interlude, a monkey from Yoshino marries one from Arashiyama, and their families celebrate the marriage. The actors exchange lines using Japanese onomatopoeic sounds for monkey vocalizations (“kyakyakya”).