While staying in Murotsu, Harima Province (now Hyogo Prefecture), a man (waki) from the Shimogyō area of Kyoto fell in love with a courtesan and both exchanged vows to marry each other. Some time after the man returned to Kyoto, he made arrangements to welcome his new bride to be, but found out that she had gone missing.
Heartbroken, the man decides to visit Shimogamo Shrine on the day of the Summer Purification ritual in order to pray for their reunion. Along the way, he meets a local man (ai) from the Kamigyō area, who is on his way to the shrine because he heard rumours of a madwoman there who entertains people by telling stories about the purification ritual performed at Tadasu Grove.
The men make their way to Shimogamo Shrine together and, upon arriving at the shrine, they meet the madwoman as expected. She seems to be hoping for a reunion with her husband. Upon the man's request, the madwoman recounts the story about the origin of the Summer Purification ritual and its miraculous power. She recommends that the man worship the shrine's deity only after going through the sacred ring made of straw and cleansing himself of all impurities.
The man asks the madwoman to put on her eboshi hat and entertain him with a dance. The woman starts to dance, expressing her hope that she will one day reunite with her husband. Eventually, the madwoman becomes ashamed of her dishevelled appearance and falls to the ground in tears.
It is in this moment that the man suddenly realizes that this is the very woman whom he had promised to marry. The two are happily reunited, all thanks to the power of the deity of Kamo Shrine.
The title of this work bears the name of the sacred Shinto ritual "Minazuki-barae", which is held every year on the last day of the sixth lunar month. The ritual is also called End-of-summer Purification, because according to the old lunar calendar, summer lasted until the sixth lunar month. This Shinto ritual originates from the "Oharae", or "Purification" ceremonies performed at the imperial court in ancient times. According to tradition, a hoop made of straw is put up at the shrine and anyone who goes through it is believed to be absolved of sins and impurities for the following six months. The tradition of passing through the straw hoop at Shimogamo Shrine during the summer continues to this day.
Usually, the characters of madwomen in Noh carry a bamboo branch in their hands, but in "Minazuki-barae" the madwoman is holding a hemp stem - like those of which the straw ring in the shrine is made.
The story of the play takes place in Shimogamo Shrine - one of the two Kamo Shrines in Kyoto. Since the deity of Kamo is celebrated as the patron deity of marriage, the shrine was considered the most suitable place for both men and women to go and pray for a reunion. The name of the shrine's river, "Mitarashi-gawa", is frequently repeated in the play, as it is a famous place for purification rituals and also helps people cool off in the heat of summer.
The focus of the play is the madwoman's love for her beloved, expressed through the ‘kakeri’ and ‘chū-no-mai’ dances during the first and second acts. The gestures indicating her heart fluttering with excitement by the mere thought of her beloved (‘kakeri’) and her dance of hope of reuniting with him (‘chū-no-mai’) strike the viewer's heart. One of the highlights is the woman's transformation from a madwoman into a dancer by putting on an eboshi hat on stage before starting to dance.
This play is performed only by the Kanze School of Noh. It was added to the school's repertoire by the 15th head of Kanze School, Kanze Motoakira, during the late Edo period (late 18c).