2009-10-30

That's Snow Woman, That's My Wife!

I'm off to a Halloween Party at Shaft (mainly to promo my Halloween Party tomorrow) so I don't have much time. Thus I'm providing you a story from my vault. I'll take some photos, believe you me, my costume is very scary...

雪女 Yuki-Onna ("snow woman")
other names: Yuki-jorō 雪女郎 (Snow Prostitute), Yuki-onago 雪女子 (Snow Girl), Yuki-hime 雪姫 (Snow Princess), Yuki-nyōbō 雪女房 (Snow Wife), Yuki-anesa 雪姉さ (Snow Sister), Yuki-banba 雪バンバ, Shikkenken シッケンケン
Yuki-Onna is a ghost from Japanese folklore. She appears as a woman in a pure white robe and unbound hair, and usually appears with no feet (all obvious signs that she is a ghost). In some stories there is a splattering of blood on her robe that is visible. This ghost is only seen when it is snowing, which, with her pale white skin, all but obscures her from view.
There have been many stories about Yuki-Onna in both written and oral form. The most common in Japan tells that Yuki-Onna is the ghost of a pregnant woman who has died in the snow, and in these tales she is sometimes seen carrying a baby. In others, she is known to kidnap children. Another theme common to other yôkai and bakemono, Yuki-onna sometimes asks a passerby to hold her child, only for them to find that it has grown incredibly heavy, and thus immobilized, the Yuki-Onna's unfortunate victim freezes to death. In other stories the Yuki-Onna will kill through her icy breath.
Often, Yuki-onna will appear to a human man and, disguising her ghostly nature, become his wife and have many children with him. These marriages, as is true with most supernatural marriages in Japanese folklore, do not tend to end well. In some cases the husband disobeys a request from his wife which causes her to leave him, or else the Yuki-onna will melt as soon as the spring's warmth comes.
A female apparition sometimes encountered on snowy nights, usually described as having white hair or skin, being cold to the touch, or otherwise being similar to the frigid winter landscape.

A early description of the snow woman is found in the Sōgi Shokoku Monogatari (宗祇諸国物語, c. 1690). The author describes an experience in which he caught sight of a strange woman on the edge of a bamboo grove, about twenty years of age, wearing a white unlined kimono and with skin so pale as to be transparent, and a full (~10 ft/3.3m) in height.

Although she is often thought to come out during snowstorms or during a full moon, in some regions the snow woman is said to make her appearance on a fixed date. In Iwate Prefecture's Tōno area she appears on koshōgatsu (January 15th), and in Aomori Prefecture's Nishitsugaru District she shows up on New Year's Day and leaves on the first day of February.

The yuki-onna is considered the spirit of the snow itself, or perhaps the ghost of a woman who died in a snowstorm, but according to one source, the yuki-jorō of the Oguni area of Yamagata Prefecture is believed to have originally been a princess of the moon. Tiring of life in the heavens, this lunar maiden descended on a snowfall to investigate the earth, only to discover she could no longer return to the sky. She still appears on moonlit nights when the snow is deep.

Although she may have originated as a heavenly being, this same yuki-jorō is considered to be an abductor of children, and she always has a great number of her adopted brood with her. The snow woman is often used to admonish children who stay out too long after dark or who cry at night, as this chilly surrogate mother will surely find them and spirit them away.

Other yuki-onna are even more menacing; the snow woman of Niigata Prefecture causes people to freeze to death and tears the livers out of living children (OUCH!), in Iwate and Miyagi she can pull out your soul, and in Ibaraki she calls out to passers-by and pushes them into ravines if she is ignored. In Aomori she takes on the character of the mother ghost called ubume, harassing people into holding her child, which then becomes so large as to crush the bearer.

Two Tales of the Yuki-Onna

Two woodcutters are traveling in the snow, when they take refuge in a ferryman's hut. While they are sleeping, a beautiful woman dressed all in white enters, and blows upon the older man while he is sleeping. Seeing this, the younger woodcutter prepares for death, only to find that she will spare him because of his good looks. But she warns him to never tell anyone of this encounter. A long time after, the young woodcutter meets a beautiful young woman whom he eventually marries. They have many children together, and one night while it is snowing he relates the tale of the Yuki-onna he met that day in the ferryman's hut. Hearing this, his wife leaves in anger, declaring that she was the very woman who spared his life. She leaves, letting him know that the only reason she is again sparing his life is for the sake of their children. She departs, turning into snow, and is never seen again.


Another written tale of a Yuki-onna finds an old man ready to go to sleep one winter's evening in 1833. A knocking sound is heard at his door, but he ignores it. A voice outside pleads to let it in, but still the man denies entry. He has no food or bedding, he says, but his guest desires only shelter. Still the man will not open the door. As he turned to go to bed, he discovered a beautiful young woman in his house, who is not wearing any geta. The young woman tells him that she has been gliding aroung in the snow, searching for the village where she had been married while she was alive. She is seeking this village, for she wishes to haunt her husband for leaving her father's after she had died. In the middle of the night, she leaves, and the next morning, curious about her story, the old man goes to the village and meets the husband of the young woman. Her ghost, the husband tells the young man, has been visiting him in his sleep, and he has finally decided to return to his father-in-law, to help him in his old age.


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