Act I

Scene 1 :
Drifting ashore to Amchitka

Kodayu and his crew are jubilant to have landed on the poor desolate island of Amchitka, whose inhabitants do not understand a word of Japanese but are willing to help Kodayu and his crew. He asks his men to entertain the islanders with “sake". Then a ballad, “Sailors' Song”, is sung by them, and he pledges himself to return to Japan.

Scene 2 :
At the Wharf of Amchitka

They stay in Amchitka for four years, during which four of the crew die of cold and hunger. One day a wrecked cargo boat with Russian merchants aboard drifts to the island, and one of them proposes to Kodayu that they work together to build a new boat and sail off to the Sea of Okhotsk. The boat is completed with the help of the islanders, and on July 18, 1787, they hopefully set sail for Kamchatka. Kodayu sings, “We've Finally Seized Happiness”.

Act II
Sailing for Kamchatka and
Okhotsk and the Life at Laksman's Residence

Scene 1 Laksman's Residence in Irkutsk, Siberia

After the difficult sailing from Amchitka to Kamchatka, and then to the Sea of Okhotsk, Kodayu and his men reach Irkutsk, after crossing the wilderness of Siberia on horseback. On arrival there, Kodayu immediately submits to the Russian government a petition asking for his return to Japan, but of no avail. One day he meets a naturalist named Laksman, and they soon become great friends. Here, “A Duet of Laksman and Kodayu” is sung by the two men praising each other. Laksman's pretty young daughter, Sophia, and Kodayu soon fall in love. Kodayu wavers between his love for Sophia and his keen desire to go home. Realizing his dilemma, Sophia, too, is perplexed. Here the two sing, “A Duet of Love".

Scene 2 :
In the Suburbs of Irkutsk

As a last resort to help Kodayu, Laksman decides to take him to St. Petersburg to let him make a direct appeal to Catherine the Great (Queen Ekaterina II) and express his desire to return to Japan. Thus, after listening to the toll of a Russian church and saying good-bye to Sophia, Mrs. Laksman and the crewmembers, the two men set off for forty-day trip by sleigh through snowy Siberia.


Scene 1 :
At the Audience Chamber in the Palace of “St. Petersburg"

The day has finally come when Kodayu is to receive an audience with Catherine the Great (Queen Ekaterina II). Laksman sings, “An Aria of Encouragement", urging Kodayu on. Kodayu then tells the queen of all the unspeakably difficult days he has spent in her country. Having listened quietly to his story with a gentle affectionate look on her face, the queen grants him her permission to go back to Japan and sings an aria, "A Far-off Country of Cherry Blossoms", expressing her yearning for a distant, unknown country. Deeply moved, Kodayu prostrates himself before her.

Scene 2 :
St. Petersburg in the Midnight Sun

Kodayu spends days in St. Petersburg filled with the exalted anticipation of returning home and the bitter grief of leaving Sophia. One day, allured by a strange, beautifully-dressed woman, Kodayu is given a chance to visit a famous hall of harlots in the city and listens to their song, "Romance" and also the chorus, “The Polka", sung by a group of harlots.

Act IV 
Back in Irkutsk

Scene 1 :
Harbor Facing the Sea of Okhotsk

The day of departure for Japan, which Kodayu has been so fondly dreaming of for many years, has finally come. Leaving Shozo, who has lost his leg due to frostbite, and Shinzo, who has become a member of the Russian Orthodox Church, the three men - Kodayu, Isokichi, and Koichi(the only two of the remaining Kodayu's crew)-get aboard the ship sailng for Japan, to put an end to their nine-year, nine-month wandering life. It is a heartbreaking farewell for Kodayu and Sophia. Kodayu sings, “I Leave My Heart Behind with You", while Sophia tearfully sings “A Sad Romance - the Song of Pussy Willows". As the boat leaves the shore towards Japan, Shozo and Shinzo see it off, crouching on the wharf, while Sophia weeps, burying her face in her mother's breast.

Scene 2 :
At a Japanese Courtyard

Soon after the boat reaches Japan, Koichi dies. Japan is now under strict national isolation policies. Kodayu, therefore, has to be sent to Edo to undergo strict examinations by the government. He is ordered not to tell his story of Russia to anybody under any circumstances. He is even forbidden to go out of the house. Thinking of his crew who died in Russia, the numerous difficulties he encountered there, the sad farewell with Sophia, and the kind Russian people who helped him, Kodayu wonders what on earth is the meaning of all these things which have occurred in his life. Left all alone and overwhelmed by the sense of desperate emptiness, Kodayu sings “An Aria of Bitter Grief".