This month, a cracked sessho-seki, or “stone of death,” was found 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 may have contributed to the cracking, said Nick Kapoor, an associate professor of history at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey.
Each winter, he said, water could seep into the crack, freeze, and then expand. However, many are looking for guidance in this myth, he added.
There are several versions of this legend, but Tamamo-no-mae, the spirit of the nine-tailed fox, was believed to have been trapped in the rock for nearly 900 years.
According to Kapoor, Tamamo-no-Mae was known for her shapeshifting abilities, so she turned into a beautiful woman and attracted the emperor’s attention.
According to Kapoor, when she became close to the emperor, he became seriously ill. According to him, the court astrologer used divination to determine that Tamamo-no-Mae was the culprit.
According to him, once her plan was thwarted, she fled into the desert, changing her form to try and go unnoticed. However, the samurai sent after her eventually caught up with the fox spirit, Kapoor said.
According to him, when one of the warriors shot her with an arrow, her physical form was killed, so her spirit turned to stone.
Legend has it that if you touch the stone, you will die, hence the name of the killer stone, Kapoor said.
There is no evidence of the stone’s supernatural powers, but its unique location may have fueled the rumor, said Yoshiko Okuyama, a professor of Japanese studies at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
Spirit with a change of heart
According to Okuyama, the rock has become a popular tourist attraction and its popularity has skyrocketed, but it pales in comparison to the glory of the spirit.
According to her, the fox spirit has made numerous appearances in contemporary Japanese media, often as a villain turned hero.
“More recent manga and anime adaptations don’t want to portray women in a misogynistic way,” Okuyama said.
According to Kapoor, in old Japanese myths, the stories centered around evil female spirits seeking to undermine the power of men.
An omen for our time
After the stone cracked, people were quick to report the time of the break.
According to Kapoor, many took this event as a bad sign, given the pandemic and the war between Ukraine and Russia.
Others considered it a good omen, saying she was released to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin and the war with Ukraine, he said.
“If you’re in the mood to take it negatively, you certainly can, but if you want to look at it positively, maybe this fox spirit will help us in our time of need,” Kapoor said.