Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1197
During the mid-fifteenth century, under the shogunate of Ashikaga Yoshimasa, lives a warrior lord by the name of Sasaki Sadakuni, lord of the Province of Yamato. He has two sons. One, twenty-five years old and named Katsura, is the son of Sadakuni’s first wife; the other, twelve-year-old Hanagata, is the son of Sadakuni’s second and present wife, Lady Spider. Katsura, a handsome young man, is taken into the luxurious and self-indulgent service of the shgun at Kyoto. There, at the instigation of one of his retainers, Fuwa Banzaemon, Katsura falls in love with a dancer, Wisteria-wave, and he begins to lead a life of pleasure.
A retainer of the House of Sasaki, Nagoya Sansabur, is sent to Kyoto to present a treasured painting to the shgun. Learning how matters stand with Katsura, he does his best to make the young lord mend his ways, but to no avail. Meanwhile, Banzaemon himself is discovered to be in love with Wisteria-wave, and he is discharged from feudal service. Sansabur is sent back to the Sasaki provincial headquarters. At the same time, a loyal retainer, Sasara Sampachir, kills Wisteria-wave and goes into hiding. On the same night, a disloyal retainer, Hasebe Unroku, steals the treasured painting and disappears.
The next day, Banzaemon’s father, Road-dog, steward to the House of Sasaki, arrives as Sadakuni’s emissary. He severely reprimands Katsura for his dissolute ways and discharges Katsura’s retinue as being disloyal. Behind Road-dog’s outwardly righteous actions, however, lies a deeper plan, a plot to take over his lord’s domain with the connivance of Governor General Hamana. Knowing that Lady Spider hopes that her own son, Hanagata, will succeed to the lordship of Sasaki, Road-dog has joined forces with her. With the backing of an evil sorcerer, the two attempt to do away with Katsura’s wife, Lady Ginkgo, and her son, Young-moon, who are living in the Sasaki villa in Heguri, guarded by Sansabur and his father, Nagoya Saburozaemon. Although their plot fails, Sadakuni is deceived, and troops are dispatched against Lady Ginkgo and her young son.
In the meantime, Banzaemon, who holds a grudge against Sansabur, kills Saburozaemon. Sansabur places Young-moon in the care of the boy’s elderly nurse and helps them escape; he fights valiantly in defense of Lady Ginkgo, but in spite of his courage and efforts his lord’s lady is abducted. He escapes into Kawachi Province. The old woman in charge of Young-moon meets with difficulty in escaping with her charge, but the boy is saved by Sasara Sampachir, who has changed his name to Namuemon and has been hiding in Tamba Province.
Namuemon is still haunted by the spirit of the dead Wisteria-wave, whom he killed for the sake of his lord; his son, Chestnut-son, becomes blind, and his daughter, Maple, is haunted by a serpent. When it becomes known that Namuemon has been secretly watching Road-dog’s movements with the idea of killing him, warriors are sent against Namuemon, who beheads his own son and then, in order that Young-moon’s life might be spared, identifies the head as Young-moon’s. Namuemon’s daughter sells herself for the painting. Namuemon, with his wife and Young-moon, seeks refuge in Kawachi Province. Leaving the others in a place of safety, Namuemon then sets out to find his master, Katsura, and Katsura’s wife, Lady Ginkgo.
Meanwhile, Lady Ginkgo, who has fallen into Road-dog’s hands, is about to be murdered, but she is saved by a hero-recluse by the name of Umezu (Good-gate). Katsura, who has become an itinerant Buddhist priest, is about to meet his death at a temple festival in Omi Province when his life is saved by Monkey-son, Sansabur’s son who has become a street preacher.
After his delivery, Katsura is hidden in the home of Yuasa Matahei, Wisteria-wave’s older brother and a painter living in Otsu. By chance, Namuemon is also staying there. Matahei becomes aware that Namuemon is his own sister’s murderer, but at the same time he is deeply impressed by the quality of Namuemon’s loyalty. Matahei’s wife confesses that six years ago she had attempted to hang herself because a ruffian had robbed her of twenty pieces of gold. Namuemon not only saved her from death but also gave her twenty gold pieces to make up for her loss.
Torn between his wish for revenge and his gratitude toward Namuemon, Matahei draws his sword and cuts Namuemon’s traveling hat instead of Namuemon’s head; he then offers the sundered hat to Wisteria-wave’s departed but still-vengeful spirit. With past wrongs thus redressed, Matahei shows his gratitude by bringing Namuemon to Katsura. At this point Hasebe Unroku appears on the scene and is recognized by Matahei’s wife as the man who robbed her six years before. Namuemon forces Unroku to commit suicide to expiate his sins.
A traveling theatrical troupe arrives in the area, and among its members is Namuemon’s daughter, Maple. Namuemon, now revealed as Sampachir, meets his daughter, whose haunting by serpents has been healed by the painting she bought so dearly. Matahei, for the first time, realizes that he has attained the inner secret that he had striven for in his art—its magical power.
On the following day, Katsura and his party leave Otsu for Kawachi Province. Katsura acquires a book on military strategy and tactics from Good-gate, who saved Lady Ginkgo’s life. Intending to seek the assistance of the new governor general, Katsumoto, the party arrives at Good-gate’s secluded abode on Diamond Mountain to find that Katsumoto is already there and attempting to persuade Good-gate to accept the position of chief of military strategy. It is also revealed that Good-gate is related to Katsura by marriage. Katsura is reunited with Lady Ginkgo, who has been staying there under Good-gate’s protection. With the backing of the governor general and Good-gate, Katsura prepares to return to his home province of Yamato.
Meanwhile, in Kyoto, Sansabur, accompanied by his faithful servant Deer, has been searching for Fuwa Banzaemon and his gang in the brothels of the city. Finally he finds them, and, with the assistance of a courtesan and Good-gate, who had been a friend of his slain father, Saburozaemon, Sansabur achieves his revenge. Good-gate, appointed the governor general’s deputy, receives orders to go to the headquarters of the House of Sasaki. Requesting the attendance of Sadakuni’s wife, Lady Spider, and his steward, Road-dog, as well, Good-gate tells Lord Sasaki Sadakuni that Katsura not only has mended his former ways but also has displayed great military valor. He requests that Sadakuni pardon his son and name Katsura his heir and successor; Sadakuni will then retire in Katsura’s favor as head of the clan. Good-gate also reveals the plot concocted by Lady Spider and Road-dog to take over the House of Sasaki by conniving for the succession of the second-born, Lady Spider’s son, Hanagata. Road-dog is then placed under arrest and locked in a caged carriage. His mission accomplished, Good-gate takes his leave amid the low and reverent bows of the members of the House of Sasaki.
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