Not many places make the news twice in one year and when they do, it is usually because of something bad. That is the case in Sesshoseki, Japan, and the news was definitely ad twice … at least for some wild boars. Back in March of 2022, Sesshoseki was in the world news when its famous Killing Stone (can a Killing Stone ever have good news?) split in half and, according to local legend, released an evil nine-tailed fox spirit out to wreak havoc on humans and wildlife. Residents were so terrified that the rock had been tied with a rope when the fatal crack first appeared, but it was no match for a vengeful 9nine-tailed fox. How vengeful? That brings us to the latest news from Sesshoseki – locals visiting the site were shocked to find the corpses of eight wild boars. Their deaths have renewed fears of the nine-talied fox and demands for a solution. Does England’s King Charles still hunt foxes? This could be a chance for some UK-Japan diplomacy.
The legend begins – as many good legends do – with a concubine or mistress. In this case, the courtesan is Daji, a ‘companion’ of China’s Shang dynasty's last ruler King Zhou, who reigned up until 1046 BCE. Daji possessed by an evil fox spirit and was said to control the king and brought on the reign of terror that led to the end the Shang dynasty. The fox spirit then fled Daji and went to India to possess Lady Kayō, a concubine of the crown prince Banzoku – eventually forcing him to cut off the heads of a thousand men. After that, the spirit left India and returned to Bao Si, a concubine of the Zhou dynasty King You.
Didn’t you say the nine-tailed fox spirit was hiding in a rock in Japan?
Yes, but there apparently were a lot of concubines and a lot of evil rulers who needed a convenient excuse for their dastardly deeds. That need eventually appeared in Japan, where the legend has it that the nine-tailed fox spirit Tamamo-no-Mae, the most beautiful and intelligent courtesan of Emperor Toba, who brought illness upon the emperor before she was exposed by the emperor’s astrologer and doctor. The emperor eventually recovered and ordered the spirit killed, but it managed to disappear by embedding itself into a stone called the Sesshō-seki, located on the slopes of Mt. Nasudake in Nasu-machi, Tochigi, Japan.
Was the rock a concubine too?
No, but that didn’t stop the nine-tailed fox spirit from continuing its evil ways. Local folklore told of mysterious gases that were released by the rock and proved to be fatal to any humans or animals which ventured too close and breathed them. In the late 1300s, a Buddhist monk named Gennō Shinshō was said to have convince the fox spirit to repent, then released it from the stone.
If the stone is fox-free, why are so many people still afraid of it?
Good question. It seems many didn’t believe the monk and continued to fear the stone and its trapped spirit. That was apparent when the crack appeared in it a few years ago, prompting someone to attempt to keep it together and fox-filled with a rope. The breaking apart in March 2022 made national and eventually worldwide news, with brave geologists checking it out and determining the break-up was from natural causes – age and exposure combined with water seeping into smaller cracks and eventually making the one that broke it apart.
Did the nine-tailed fox get out to go looking for another concubine?
Well, they’re called ‘escorts’ now, but no, it seems the evil stayed around the rock and may not have been caused by the fox at all. Officials from the park where it lies say they regularly find dead raccoon dogs (a foxlike canid) and, ironically, foxes around the rock. However, the discovery of eight dead boars recently was a cause for concern, as NTV News reports.
“A shocking event happened here last week. When I asked the person in charge of the park office that manages Sesshoseki -- Mr. Akihiko Zenyoji, Ministry of the Environment, Nikko National Park, Nasu Administrator Office, "There's a yellow spot over the fence, but there are 8 of them around there. I found a dead boar.”
The three adult and five young boars were found very close to the Sesshoseki rock, which geologists have determined is a volcanic rock located (as previously pointed out) on a volcanic mountain. While not actively erupting lava and ashes, Mt. Nasudake is releasing something else.
"Hydrogen sulfide is highly toxic, and animals are especially low-lying, so hydrogen sulfide is slightly heavier than air, so it tends to accumulate at the bottom. I wondered if the wild boar died by inhaling hydrogen sulfide.”
Akihiko Zenyoji, Ministry of the Environment, Nikko National Park, Nasu Administrative Office, hit the dead boar on the head - hydrogen sulfide regularly seeps from the ground on the mountain and is toxic to any creatures whose noses are close to the ground. While the gas stays low and dissipates when it rises, it could still be slightly harmful to humans, so a sign implores visitors to “Please refrain from going over the fence” to get a selfie at the Sesshoseki rock. Just to be safe, the carcasses were inspected before being incinerated and found to have no evidence of swine flu infection. Still, the officials are worried, as one noted:
“I've never heard of such a large collection of animal carcasses."
The news will no doubt result in an increase in tourism, which does not upset officials as long as visitors respect the signs and stay away from any dead animals they find. A good alternative is to visit the sulfur hot springs, which are a much safer consequence of being located on a volcanic mountain.
Just to be on the safe side, ‘escorts’, concubines, mistresses and courtesans should be on the lookout for foxes with nine tails – or less in case the spirit has figured out how to hide some of them.