A Japanese ‘killing stone,’ said to contain an evil 9-tailed fox spirit, has split in two and a mysterious mist fell over after the purification ceremony took place

Science News

Some assumed this meant the ritual appeased the monster, while others suggested it was a harbinger of something else to come.

A Japanese 'killing stone,' said to contain an evil 9-tailed fox spirit
A killing stone cracked in half in Nikko National Park, Japan, supposedly releasing an evil nine-tailed fox spirit.

A Sessho-seki, or “killing stone,” was found cracked in half this month in Nikko National Park, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Tokyo.

No one knows exactly what caused the stone to crack, but the cold winter months could have contributed to the cracking, said Nick Kapur, an associate professor of history at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey.

Each winter, water could have seeped into the crack, frozen, then expanded, he said. However, many look for guidance from the myth, he added.

There are multiple versions of the legend, but it was believed Tamamo-no-Mae, a nine-tailed fox spirit, lay trapped in the rock for nearly 900 years.

The tales all center around retired Emperor Toba, who reigned in Japan from 1107 to 1123.

Tamamo-no-Mae was known for her shape-shifting abilities, so she transformed herself into a beautiful woman and caught the eye of the emperor, Kapur said.

As she grew closer to the emperor, he fell gravely ill, Kapur said. A court astrologer used divination to determine Tamamo-no-Mae was the culprit, he said.

Once her plan was foiled, she fled into the wilderness, changing shapes to try and stay hidden, he said. However, samurai sent after her eventually caught up to the fox spirit, Kapur said.

When one of the warriors shot her with an arrow, her physical form was killed, so her spirit transformed into a stone, he said.

Legend goes that if you touch the stone, you die, hence the name killing stone, Kapur said.

There is no proof of the stone’s supernatural abilities, but its unique location may have given substance to the rumors, said Yoshiko Okuyama, professor of Japanese studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo.

The stone is near multiple volcanoes, so occasional gases that were released may have killed some animals or humans over the years, she said.

A spirit with a change of heart

The rock has become a top tourism site and skyrocketed in popularity, but it paled in comparison to the spirit’s fame, Okuyama said.

The fox spirit has made numerous appearances in modern Japanese media, often as the villain-turned-hero character, she said.

“More recent adaptations in manga and anime don’t want to portray women in a misogynistic way,” Okuyama said.

In older Japanese myths, the stories centered around evil female spirits out to undermine the power of males, Kapur said.

An omen for our time

After the stone cracked, people were quick to chime in on the timing of the breakage.

Many took the event as a bad omen, considering the pandemic and the war between Ukraine and Russia, Kapur said.

Others believed it was a good omen, saying she was released to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin and the war on Ukraine, he said.

“If you’re in the mood to take this negatively, you certainly can, but if you want to take a positive spin on it, maybe this fox spirit is going to help us out in our time of need,” Kapur said.

Japan holds a ceremony to purify the nine-tailed fox’s soul after the stone that seals it is broken, but mist suddenly descends

The Nasu Tourism Association, which oversees the popular tourist destination and arranges for the ceremony, said it hoped the soul purification would calm the “beast” and make it an omen of good luck, bringing peace and prosperity to the region.

No one knows if the ritual actually had a calming effect on the monster. But, some locals believe it had some effect, as a mysterious mist fell over the area shortly after the purification ceremony took place.

A Japanese 'killing stone,' said to contain an evil 9-tailed fox spirit
Fog fell over the area shortly after the ceremony. On the sign is the words “killer stone”
A Japanese 'killing stone,' said to contain an evil 9-tailed fox spirit
A large area was shrouded in a mysterious mist.
A Japanese 'killing stone,' said to contain an evil 9-tailed fox spirit
The stone is no exception. No one knows if anything came out with the mist.

Fog fell over the area shortly after the ceremony. On the sign is the words “killer stone”

A large area was shrouded in a mysterious mist.
Fog fell over the area shortly after the ceremony. On the sign is the words “killer stone”The mist that covered the stone after the ceremony added a layer of mystery to the story of the broken rock and the nine-tailed fox. Some have suggested that it could be a sign that the fox’s spirit has left the area. But there are also fears that it could be a bad omen for things to come. Or this is simply a time when the elemental forces of heaven and earth are at play, like many other ancient mysteries in Japan. 

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