One day, a mountain hermit (shite in act one) living in Sōjō Valley in Mt. Kurama decides to go and enjoy the view of the blooming mountain cherry trees. Meanwhile, a servant monk from Kurama Temple (ai) delivers an invitation to a cherry blossom viewing picnic to the monks (waki, waki-tsure) living in the mountain’s East Valley. Taking the temple’s noviciate children (ko-kata) with them, the monks travel to the cherry blossom-viewing spot. Just when the servant monk has started dancing to entertain the guests, the mountain hermit appears. The servant monk tries to make the hermit leave, but the monks stop him and decide to return to the temple, taking the children with them.
Only the mountain hermit and a boy (ko-kata) remain. As the mountain hermit laments being shunned by everyone, the child approaches him feeling sympathetic. Both feel a deep bond developing between them. The boy reveals that he is in fact the son of the Genji general Minamoto-no-Yoshitomo and Tokiwa-gozen - Ushiwaka-maru, who now lives in exile. Feeling pity for the ill-fated boy, the hermit decides to show him various famous cherry blossom-viewing spots, using his supernatural powers. He reveals that he is, in fact, the Great Tengu Goblin of Mount Kurama. Announcing that he will come back the next day to teach Ushiwaka the art of warfare, the hermit steps onto a cloud and flies away towards Sōjō Valley.
The tengu goblin Konoha (ai) appears. He announces that he has been appointed by the Great Goblin to be the boy’s partner in combat training, and eventually calls Ushiwaka-maru.
Finally, the Great Goblin (shite in act two) appears before Ushiwaka, who is now holding a naginata halberd. The Great Goblin recounts the story of Zhang Liang of the Han Dynasty, who demonstrated humility and proved himself worthy to be taught the art of warfare by bringing back Huang Shigong’s shoe from the abyss. He then proceeds to teach the boy the secrets of the art of war. The Goblin predicts the defeat of the rival Heike clan and promises to protect Ushiwaka. At the end, regretfully having to part with the boy, the Great Goblin rushes back deep into Mount Kurama.
This Noh play depicts the legend about the childhood years of the tragic hero Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune - the times when he went by the names Ushiwaka-maru and Shana-ō.
The highlight of the first act is the chant that hints at the relationship between the mountain hermit and Ushiwaka-maru. The same song can be found in “Kangin-shū”, a popular medieval anthology of poems, which tells of an old man’s affection for a young lad, likening the boy to a plum blossom. If one reads between the lines, they may find that the song describes the homosexual relations between the older monks (the mountain hermit) and the temple noviciates in the middle ages. This particular scene flows with the spirit of youth and spring.
The highlight of the second half is the act of bestowing the secrets of warfare upon Ushiwaka, as well as the Great Goblin’s animated dance and movements.
The secrets of warfare are the same as those bestowed upon Zhang Liang by the old hermit Huang Shigong in the famous Chinese legend. The play juxtaposes Ushiwaka-maru’s kindness for the mountain hermit with Zhang Liang’s respect for his master, stressing the fact that both the Great Goblin and Huang Shigong are elderly characters.
The goblins, or ‘tengu’, are commonly depicted as red-faced creatures with long noses, but the tengu goblins in Noh are quite different.
The actors put on a mask with chiseled and prominent features called Ō-beshimi. Other than that, there are a few hand props used specifically by goblin characters, such as a fan made of feathers called ‘hane-uchiwa’.
The role of the children lining up to enjoy the cherry blossom-viewing party itself is called “blossom-viewing”, or ‘hanami’, and is often the debut role of a budding Noh actor. The more the children, the livelier the cherry blossom-viewing scene.
Among the special directions of this play, there is one called “Haku-tō” or “Shiro-gashira”, in which the Great Tengu Goblin wears a white wig instead of the usual red one. Stressing the fact that the role is of an old goblin, this special direction emphasises the character’s dignity and depth.