Is A Fox Demon on the Loose in Japan?

Imagine you are a Japanese person, taking a walk in nature around a mythical field when you notice that the seal containing a very powerful demon has broken. What do you do?

Tamamo-no-Mae, the Nine-tailed Fox Demon

So, what are we dealing with here?

Linfamy has a wonderful breakdown of the Nine-tailed Demon fox legend, but for those of you who wish to read about it, here is my best summation of what I’ve watched and read:

Tamamo no Mae was found abandoned in the woods and adopted by the couple who found her. She was incredibly bright and well-spoken, which enabled her to read poetry for the emperor, Toba, who eventually made her a servant in his court.

She grew into a beautiful woman and became the emperor’s consort. Unfortunately, the emperor got sick, and the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong. But you know who could? That’s right! A powerful sorcerer! After a series of rituals, he proclaimed that Tamamo no Mae was poisoning the emperor with magic!

An image of Daji (妲己), a similar woman from Chinese legend thought to be a nine-tailed fox demon as well. (Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain license)

But how to prove this to the bewildered court? Why, have her participate in a holy ritual, of course! If she was innocent, the ritual would go off without a hitch. So, they begin the ritual, and Tamamo no Mae began to sprout tails, foxy tails, nine in total, revealing her to be a nine-tailed demon fox! She fled, leaving the emperor heartbroken.

He sent out two warriors, Kazusa-no-suke (上総介) and Miura-no-suke (三浦介), to kill her. After some time, they managed to shoot her down, her body changed into the legendary Killing Stone (Sesshosei, 殺生石). It was called the Killing Stone because legend had it that anyone who touched the stone would be killed instantly.

Twitter user discussing the slayers of Tamamo no Mae, complete with fanart and a pitch for a new anime or manga series!

Now, Emperor Toba is a real historical figure, which adds a bit of flavor to the story. When Toba died, he was a retired emperor, but his son, reigning Emperor Konoe, passed away shortly thereafter, with many blaming Tamamo no Mae for their untimely deaths. Untimely because this caused a dispute for claims of succession to the throne, leading to the disastrous Genpei War. Because of this, she is considered one of the three most evil yokai, or Japanese monsters, in all of Japanese history.

The Slaying of the Nine-Tailed Fox on the Nasu Moor (Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain License)

But that’s not all! Later, a monk visited the stone to hear Tamamo no Mae’s side of the story. Turns out her father was exiled and died because of the emperor, which may explain why she did what she did. She expressed regret about the people she killed and asked the monk to show her mercy by allowing her spirit to leave the stone and go to heaven. He obliged, and her spirit was set free!

The Stone Has Broken

Her is the original tweet that started the social media buzz. A million thanks to Twitter user @Lillian for their photo and tweet! Translation below:

I came alone to Sesshoseki, where the legend of the nine-tailed fox remains. The big rock in the middle wrapped around with a rope is that … It was supposed to be, but the rock was split in half and the rope was also detached. If it’s a manga, it’s a pattern that the seal is broken and it’s possessed by the nine-tailed fox, and I feel like I’ve seen something that shouldn’t be seen.

Well, it has happened. But was it so unexpected?

Translation: A photo of Sesshoseki taken when I went to Nasukogen around the beginning of 2020, just before the state of emergency was declared, it is true that the rock was originally cracked and reinforced with a thin wire. And since it is the “end of the soul” in front of the sesshoseki and the overthrown Tamamo-no-Mae, not the “sealed one”, there is no ominousness in breaking.

The Japanese newspaper, the Yomiuri Shinbun, talked with the president of the Nasu Kogen Yumoto Guide Club (Mr. Masaharu Sugawara), and he noted that cracks had been appearing in the stone and that the stone breaking was a natural occurrence. While it is good to hear that no foul play was involved in the breaking of the stone, the break has set off a flurry of posts on Twitter about the stone, the legend, and the history behind the legend.

Is it too fitting that it happened this year, given all the terrible things that are happening now? No one is plotting against Naruhito, so I think we’re safe for now.

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