On his way from Northern Japan to the capital Kyoto, the Zen Buddhist priest Gennō (waki) drops by Nasuno Plain in Shimotsuke Province (Tochigi Prefecture). Gennō's servant (ai) notices that birds are suddenly falling to the ground and dying right when they fly over a certain big stone. Gennō and his servant are about to go near the stone to have a closer look, when a woman from the nearby village (shite in the first act) approaches them in a hurry. The woman explains that the stone is called Sesshōseki, or the Killing Stone, and it is the petrified feeling of attachment of Lady Tamamo, who was favored by the retired Emperor Toba.
She warns the priest to stay away from the stone and then tells him the story of Lady Tamamo.
One autumn night, the whole body of Lady Tamamo started glowing and since that night the Emperor fell ill. The diviner Abeno Yasunari identified the illness as Lady Tamamo's doing and when he tried to undo the curse, the Lady revealed her true form - a malevolent fox. They say she fled to Nasuno and turned into the Killing Stone. At the end of her story, the village woman confesses that she is in fact the spirit of the Killing Stone and disappears in its shadow.
Gennō hears an even more detailed story from his servant and decides to hold a memorial service for the spirit of the stone.
As he is saying the prayers, the stone splits in two and from within emerges the spirit of the evil fox (shite in the second act). The fox reenacts the story of her death. Although she fled to Nasuno and was eventually executed on the Emperor's order by the warriors Miuranosuke and Kazusanosuke, she remained attached to this world and turned to stone. However, blessed by Gennō's prayers, the spirit promises to never do wrong again and finally disappears.
In the first act of the play, the woman's narration of Lady Tamamo's story is particularly worth listening to. Although quite ominous, the scene has an alluring atmosphere, generated by the narrating choir's efforts. In the second act, the most interesting part is the emergence of the fox spirit from within the stone. The fox spirit reenacts the story of its own demise, its movements corresponding to the narration of the choir. Also interesting is the concord of the crisp chant and the energetic and sharp movements of the fox spirit.
Gennō, who managed to subdue the evil fox spirit of the Killing Stone, was an actual priest of the Sōtō sect of Zen Buddhism, who lived in 14c.
In Japanese, one of the words for hammer is Gennō, because of Gennō's subduing the spirit of the stone in the Noh play "Sesshōseki" and the legend of Lady Tamamo. Nowadays, near Nasuno Hot Spring in Tochigi Prefecture, there is a lava pit gushing out poisonous gas. It is a famous tourist attraction, known as the Killing Stone.
Among the ‘kogaki’, or special directions of "Sesshōseki", there are "Shirogashira" (White Head) and "Nyotai" (Female Figure). In "Shirogashira", the prop representing a rock is not brought on the stage and the main character wears white wig and costume.
Since there is no prop on the stage, at the end of the first act the village woman leaves and in the second act the fox spirit dashes onto the stage from behind the curtains. In "Nyotai" the fox spirit appears dressed in a woman's costume. The actor often puts on a mask of a strong woman and a crown decorated with the shape of a nine-tailed fox, dressed in scarlet long-legged hakama trousers, like the ones worn by court ladies. This impressive direction focuses on the fact that the evil fox has transformed back into Lady Tamamo.