Japan’s famous Killing Stone, as it appeared before breaking apart at Nikko National Park in the Tochigi Prefecture town of Nasu. (Wiki Taro/Public Domain)

By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS, Rafu Staff Writer

As if the world hadn’t enough to worry about already.

A large volcanic boulder in Japan, known as the “Killing Stone,” has split open, and the cursed spirit it held according to mythology might be roaming free.

The stone, known as Sessho-seki, at Nikko National Park in the Tochigi Prefecture town of Nasu, is central to a 15th-century Japanese legend that tells of Tamamo-no-Mae, an alluring female yokai who was imbued with the spirit of a malevolent nine-tailed fox. After an unsuccessful attempt to kill the real-life emperor Toba (1107-1123), Tamamo-no-Mae was tracked down by the ruler’s warriors, whose arrows transformed her into a toxic rock, and considerable harm would come to mortals who come into contact with it.

Alternate versions of the tale include the telling of a Zen monk who encounters a woman who claims to be the spirit of the stone and warns against coming near it, before disappearing into the rock.

The nine-tailed fox legend has been a recurring theme in classical and modern Japanese arts and culture, in stage plays, video games, even as a central plot point in the global anime hit “Naruto.”

Information from a local tourist bureau said the cause of the stone’s breakup around March 5 was likely due to rain and sub-freezing temperatures. Located in a section of the park that features several sulfurous hot springs, it has shown deep fissures for years, possibly allowing rainwater to seep in.

The boulder was registered as a local historical site in 1957, and as a national scenic spot in 2014.

“The stone is a government-designated cultural asset, so we cannot decide what to do by ourselves,” Nikko National Park official Riko Kitahara told The New York Times. “But from a maintenance standpoint, we think it should be left as it is, since it split naturally.”

One local newspaper quoted a Nasu tourism official’s wish to see the rock re-assembled, possibly with the evil spirit returned to its stony incarceration.

The Killing Stone has long been a local tourist favorite, and many have reacted with a mix of sadness and even a bit of anxious trepidation after learning of its split.

“I feel like I’ve seen something that shouldn’t be seen,” wrote Twitter user Lily0727K, whose post and photo of the broken stone has garnered more than 150,000 reactions.

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