Posttranslational histone modifications are believed to allow the epigenetic transmission of distinct chromatin states, independently of associated DNA sequences. Histone H3 lysine 9 (H3K9) methylation is essential for heterochromatin formation; however, a demonstration of its epigenetic heritability is lacking. Fission yeast has a single H3K9 methyltransferase, Clr4, that directs all H3K9 methylation and heterochromatin. Using releasable tethered Clr4 reveals that an active process rapidly erases H3K9 methylation from tethering sites in wild-type cells. However, inactivation of the putative histone demethylase Epe1 allows H3K9 methylation and silent chromatin maintenance at the tethering site through many mitotic divisions, and transgenerationally through meiosis, after release of tethered Clr4. Thus, H3K9 methylation is a heritable epigenetic mark whose transmission is usually countered by its active removal, which prevents the unauthorized inheritance of heterochromatin.