Predictions of dark powers being unleashed by an evil vixen hung over social media in Japan on Monday after a famous volcanic rock thought to kill anyone who comes in contact with it was found split in two.
According to the mythology surrounding the sessho-sekior Killing Stone, the object contains the transformed corpse of Tamamo-no-Mae, a beautiful woman who was part of a secret conspiracy hatched by a feudal warlord to kill Emperor Toba, who reigned from 1107 to 1123.
According to legend, her real identity was an evil nine-tailed fox whose spirit is embedded in a lump of lava located in an area of Tochigi Prefecture near Tokyo famous for its sulfurous hot springs.
Its separation into two roughly equal parts, believed to have occurred in recent days, has startled online users, who noted that folklore has it that the stone constantly spews poisonous gas – hence its name.
While the stone was said to have been destroyed and its spirit exorcised by a Buddhist monk who scattered its pieces across Japan, many Japanese prefer to believe its homeland is on the slopes of Mount Nasu.
Visitors to the area, a popular vantage point, recoiled in horror over the weekend after witnesses posted photos of the broken rock, a length of rope lying on the ground around its perimeter.
“I feel like I saw something that shouldn’t be seen,” said one Twitter user called in a post that has attracted almost 170,000 likes.
While others speculated that Tamamo-no-Mae’s demon spirit had resurrected after nearly 1,000 years, local media said that cracks appeared in the rock a few years ago, potentially allowing rainwater to seep in and weaken its structure.
Registered as a Local Historic Site in 1957, the stone was featured in Matsuo Basho’s seminal work The Narrow Road to the Deep North and has inspired a Noh play, a novel and an anime film.
Masaharu Sugawara, the head of a local volunteer guide group, told Yomiuri Shimbun that it was a “shame” that the stone was split because it is a symbol of the area, but agreed that nature simply took its course.
According to the Shimotsuke Shimbun, local and national government officials will meet to discuss the stone’s fate. The newspaper quoted a tourism official from Nasu as saying he would like to see it sessho-seki restored to its original form – presumably with its demonic dweller sealed within.