207-2 Yumoto, Nasu, Nasu District, Tochigi Prefecture 325-0301
TEL: +81(0)287-74-2301 (9:00~17:00) FAX: +81(0)287-74-2302

NasuKogen Visitor Center | Nikko National Park

History and Legends

With the discovery of its natural hot springs, Nasu flourished as a popular spa.
It subsequently developed as a hub city linking the province of Ōshū (a historical province that covered much of the Tohoku area) with the Imperial capital in Kyoto, as well as with Kamakura and Edo.
Since ancient times, Nasu has been a popular destination for visitors whose relationships with the area over the course of its long history have nurtured a unique hot spring culture and a variety of legends that survive today.
Perhaps the thoughts of the men and women who wove this history may reach out and whisper to you across the ages.

The Legend of the Nine-tailed Fox
and the Sesshō-seki ("Killing Stone")

At the southeastern foot of Mt. Chausu lies a barren patch of earth littered with rocks.
One dark boulder is draped with a shimenawa and shide, the hemp rope and hanging
paper streamers that signal a sacred space in Shinto tradition. This is the Sesshō-seki,
or "Killing Stone" —a foreboding site steeped in local legend.

In Japanese folklore, foxes are mystical animals able to take human form, and the
oldest, wisest, and most powerful foxes have nine tails. Long ago, a wicked golden
fox with nine tails took the guise of an elegant court lady. Calling herself Tamamo no
Mae, she served in the court of Retired Emperor Toba (1103–1156) and soon gained
his favor. When the Retired Emperor took ill, however, the fox’s identity was
revealed by a court diviner, and it escaped to Nasu. After a long battle, the emperor’s
troops killed the fox. Its body transformed into a boulder, but the fox’s malevolence
lived on: the boulder continued to exude an evil aura and noxious gases. Anything
that lingered near the rock died, and it was thus dubbed the Sesshō-seki ("Killing Stone")

Centuries later, the Buddhist monk Gennō (1329–1400) came to Nasu. Hoping to
break the spirit’s power, he struck the stone with a great hammer, shattering it into
three pieces. One flew to Fukushima Prefecture, another landed in Hiroshima, and the
final piece remained in place. Since then, a nighttime ritual called Gojinkasai has been
conducted on the last Sunday in May to appease the fox’s spirit. Torch-bearing
participants lead the way from Nasu Onsen Shrine to the Sesshō-seki ("Killing Stone"), where
drummers dressed in white with golden wigs and fox masks beat special taiko drums
(called “Nine-Tailed Taiko”) in front of a huge bonfire.

Science offers a partial explanation for the Sesshō-seki ("Killing Stone") legend. The boulder sits
beside one of Mt. Chausu’s volcanic vents, which emit sulfur dioxide and hydrogen
sulfide gases. Warmed by the escaping vapor, the ground around the boulder attracts
small animals—particularly in winter—and the poisonous fumes kill them in their
sleep. the haiku master Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694), who visited in 1689, mentions in
Oku no hosomichi (Narrow Road to the Deep North) that the dead butterflies and bees
were so thick on the ground around the boulder that one could not see the sand

In 1957, the Sesshō-seki ("Killing Stone") was designated a Tochigi Prefecture Cultural Asset. The
tale of the nine-tailed fox appears in plays for the noh, kabuki, and puppet (jōruri)
The Legend of the Nine-tailed Fox and the “Killing Stone”

The Sesshō-seki ("Killing Stone") Area

The Sesshō-seki, or “Killing Stone,” is located in a small valley at the foot of Mt.
Chausu, just upstream from Yumoto Onsen. A wooden boardwalk makes a circuit of
the area, skirting the rocky valley floor where the source of Nasu’s oldest hot spring
bubbles from the ground. In addition to the Sesshō-seki ("Killing Stone"), this easily accessible area
has several sites with deep cultural and historical significance.
  • Sai no Kawara

    The valley center is referred to as Sai no Kawara—the name used for the riverbed in
    hell where the souls of deceased children wait. According to Buddhist beliefs unique
    to Japan, children who are stillborn or die young are guilty of causing their parents
    grief; they also had no time to accrue the spiritual merit needed to reach paradise.
    Consequently, they must remain at the river in limbo, performing penance and
    praying for salvation. They work to gain merit by stacking stones to form small
    stupas, but a demon comes every night to scatter them. Luckily, the children have a
    protector: the bodhisattva Jizō, who is the guardian of travelers and children. Jizō
    consoles the children, often hiding them in his robes and taking them across the Sai no
    Kawara to paradise. Relatives of deceased children pray to the bodhisattva and make
    offerings in the hope he will intercede for their loved ones.

    Jizō statues are often seen wearing red bibs or caps. These are donated to clothe the
    souls of the children, who otherwise must go naked. Visitors will also see many piles
    of stones along the walkway. Relatives stack them on behalf of the children, hoping to
    help them reach salvation that much sooner.
  • Kyōden Jizō

    In the early fourteenth century, a Buddhist monk named Kyōden was the head priest
    at Rengeji Temple in present-day Fukushima Prefecture. One day, he and his friends
    decided to visit the Nasu hot springs. The morning of their departure, Kyōden was
    annoyed with his mother for making breakfast instead of preparing his travel pack, so
    he cursed at her, kicked away his breakfast tray, and left. While in Nasu, his group
    decided to see the Sesshō-seki ("Killing Stone"). As they approached Sai no Kawara, thunder shook the
    earth, and flames and hot water erupted from the ground. Kyōden’s friends fled, but
    he met with divine retribution for mistreating his mother—the priest fell into the sea
    of fire and perished.

    The first Kyōden Jizō statue (at the back) was erected in 1720, and thereafter people
    came to pray that they would not bring unhappiness to their parents as Kyōden did. A
    new Kyōden Jizō statue was erected in 1982 and is flanked by two smaller Jizō. An
    annual memorial service is held for Kyōden in late May.
  • Sentai Jizō (1,000 Jizō Statues)

    The two Jizō statues to either side of the new Kyōden Jizō were part of an undertaking
    by the local community to carve 1,000 Jizō images. Each statue represents a donor’s
    prayer for safety from traffic accidents and natural disasters (such as that which befell
    Kyōden). The first of these statues was installed in 1978. Each statue has distinctive
    features and hand gestures, and their faces are turned toward Kyōden’s former temple,
  • Yunohana  Extraction Site

    Yunohana Extraction Site

    Yunohana “hot spring flowers” are the result of mineral particulates suspended in hot
    spring water and its vapor. As the temperature cools, these particulates separate into
    solid crystals that can be harvested for use as natural bath salts. At this site, grass mats
    were once placed over fissures to trap the mineral-laden steam. As the vapor cooled,
    crystal deposits formed. Yunohana were a valuable commodity in the Edo period
    (1603–1867), and some farmers used them in lieu of rice to pay their annual taxes.
Nasu Onsen Shrine

Nasu Onsen Shrine

This Shinto establishment is the chief shrine, or sōja, for eighty other shrines across the Nasu region. The shrine’s torii gate commemorates Nasu no Yoichi, a samurai famed for his archery at the Battle of Yashima (1185), and is dedicated with gratitude for fulfillment of wishes.
Many other attractions are to be found within the shrine precinct, where visitors can experience local history and culture, including an 800-year-old Mongolian oak named “Ikiru” (To Live) and a monument to the haiku master Matsuo Bashō.

Nasu’s Hot Springs

The history of Nasu’s hot springs (onsen) stretches back for more than a millennium.
Mentioned in written records as early as the eighth century, Nasu grew in popularity
as a hot spring resort such that by late in the Edo period (1603–1867), the “Seven
Springs of Nasu” were ranked among the best in eastern Japan. Nasu continues to
thrive as a hot spring destination. The waters of each onsen differ both in mineral
composition and the benefits they are said to offer.
  • Nasu Yumoto Onsen

    This is the oldest onsen source in the area: Shika no Yu, or “Deer Hot Spring.”
    Although the earliest documentation dates to 738, legend has it this onsen was
    discovered in 630 by a hunter who was chasing a wounded mystical white deer
    through the forest. He caught up with the deer to find it soothing its wound in the hot
    spring. Shika no Yu is a sulfuric spring that is 76ºC at its source point. The water is
    said to alleviate diabetes, anxiety, fatigue, and hemorrhoids.
  • Ōmaru Onsen

    Ōmaru Onsen was discovered in 1691. One of Nasu’s more remote springs, it is
    located midway up the eastern slope of Mt. Chausu. The spring is 60ºC and slightly
    alkaline. It is said to benefit those with gynecological and colon disorders.
  • Benten Onsen

    Benten Onsen was discovered in 1840, when the Buddhist goddess Benzaiten (also
    called Benten) appeared in a local man’s dream and directed him to the source. The
    spring is slightly alkaline and 50ºC. Its water is believed effective for gastrointestinal
    disorders, anemia, and indigestion.
  • Kita Onsen

    Kita Onsen was discovered in 1696. Some parts of the onsen facility date to the late
    Edo period (1603–1867). One of its many baths is an open-air tub (rotenburo) the size
    of a swimming pool, and another bath is surrounded by huge masks of the mythical
    tengu (long-nosed bird-men). The source is a simple thermal spring with a
    temperature of 54ºC, reputedly good for children’s diseases, rheumatism, and
  • Yahata Onsen

    Yahata Onsen (currently closed) was discovered in 1890 in the early Meiji era (1868–
    1912). It is located near a mountain slope where 200,000 azaleas bloom between mid-
    May and early June. Its saline spring water is 65ºC, and it is said to help with nervous
    disorders, heart disease, and gastrointestinal disorders.
  • Takao Onsen

    Originally reserved for mountain ascetics who used it for self-purification, Takao
    Onsen was discovered in 1860. It is a slightly acidic sulfuric onsen that is 35ºC and
    said to help skin disorders and chronic urinary disorders.
  • Santogoya Onsen
    (Can't visit in winter)

    Santogoya Onsen is an acidic onsen discovered in 1142. Located on the western slope
    of Mt. Asahi at an elevation of 1,500 meters, it can only be reached by hiking 2 hours
    from the Nasu Ropeway station on Mt. Chausu’s summit. The hot spring, which is
    90ºC at the source, is thought to help treat nervous disorders, ulcers, and skin