Cindy Bissig

Legends of Nasu - The Killing Stone and Shikanoyu!

Two Magical Stories

Nasu is not just a beautiful place to visit if you are a nature lover, it is also the home of two tales. One centered on a killing stone and one about a magical spring.

So let’s dive into these two legends that make Nasu so special and start with the Sesshō-seki, the “Killing Stone”!

Stones left by pilgrims at Nasu Onsen Shrine | Photo Cindy Bissig

The Legend of the Nine-Tailed Fox

If you are visiting Nasu, located to the southeast of Mount Chausu, just beside the Yumoto Onsen lies a barren patch scattered with rocks. Singled out at the very end of the valley visitors can find one dark boulder marked with a sign, the Sesshō-seki or “Killing Stone”. It is draped with the shimenawa and the shide. A hemp rope, as well as paper streamers that in Shinto traditionally mark a sacred space. It is here where the local legend is set.

You may not be aware of it, but according to Japanese folklore, foxes are said to be mystical animals, which can even take human form. Within their ranks, the oldest and the most powerful of them are said to have nine tails.

The story of Tamamo-no-Mae goes, that a long time ago a fox with nine tails disguised herself as a member of the court of Emperor Toba (1103–1156). However, as soon as the Emperor became ill, somehow the fox’s identity was revealed, and trying to escape it made its way to  Nasu. Where it was eventually killed and subsequently transformed itself into a rock.

However, it is said that the fox’s malevolence and wickedness lived on. So much it was said the boulder continued to exude evil vibes and noxious gas, so as to kill anything that came near it. This is how it became known as the Sesshō-seki or the “Killing Stone”.

Nasu Killing Stone
Killing Stone Split Nasu

Nasu’s Killing Stone or Sessho-Seki | Photos Cindy Bissig

Nasu's Killing Stone Today

These days the Sesshō-seki or the “Killing Stone” is one of the main tourist spots for visitors coming to Nasu. Especially since it broke into two parts in March 2022. Which left many people worried and even resulted in priests visiting the site to bless and perform some protective rituals on it. All in order to keep the bad spirit at bay. 

In fact, it caused such a stir, that the incident was even featured in western news outlets such as CNN Travel, The NY Times, and The Guardian.

The Legend of the Deer and the Spring

Nasu has been famous for its onsen for centuries with many of them dotted around the area, but Shikanoyu, or the “Deer Hot Spring” located only a short walk from Nasu’s Killing stone, might be the most prominent one of them all.

Legend has it that this hot spring was stumbled upon in 630 by a huntsman. It is said that he was hunting a deer that was eating the crops from one of the local fields. Chasing it through the forest, he shot it with an arrow, but somehow the deer escaped, yet wounded.

As he followed the deer’s tracks, he found it later soaking in an unknown spring, its wounds being healed by the water. It is from then on that people started to visit and bathe in this spring in hope of the same miracle.

Nasu Deer Statue

Deer Statue near Nasu Onsen | Photos Cindy Bissig

The Hot Spring Today

These days Shikanoyu is still famous for its relaxing atmosphere and is visited by tourists and locals alike.

It is a sulfur spring, which you will be able to smell as soon as you get closer to the area and the water at its source is about 76ºC hot but cools down by the time it reaches the bathhouse.

It is said to help alleviate fatigue, anxiety, diabetes, and hemorrhoids. This brings many visitors to the hot spring to enjoy a bath in the onsen or the small foot bath close to the shrine after exploring the area. 

Shikanoyu Onsen Nasu

Shikanoyu Onsen | Photo Cindy Bissig

Shikanoyu Onsen Baths

Baths at Shikanoyu Onsen | Photo Nasu Tourism Board

Nasu Foot Bath

Nasu Yumoto Foot Bath | Photos Cindy Bissig

Final Thoughts

Local towns are often steeped in history and tales. It’s those stories that make these places so interesting. Nasu is a great example; you may even like to experience and see these places in person! If so, check our Nasu Town Guide to learn more about things to do and see in Nasu.

Useful Information

Sessho-seki (Killing stone)

Shikanoyu Hot Spring

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I hope you enjoyed reading about this hidden gem just north of Tokyo, if you would like to know more about fun things to do and travel ideas, please continue to have a look at our must-see / must do things nearby Tokyo page.

To book unique activities in English, please see the Nearby Tokyo experience page.

Contributor:  Cindy Bissig

Cindy is a writer and photographer living and documenting her Japan experience. As a Digital Nomad, she travels all around Japan to discover its beauty and share what she finds on her YouTube channel, as well as through her articles and photographs. She is particularly passionate about local culture, food and sake. Tune into her Podcast “Sake Unplugged” to learn more about it. Her goal is to show you an authentic Japan to make sure you have the best possible experience when you visit!

youtube:  Let’s Travel and Eat

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