Of course my first post in this series has to be about my novel’s central character, the Yuki-Onna. She starts of the week in what I like to call “Hags & Beauties: Japan’s Mythical Female Creatures.”
Yuki Onna literally means “snow woman”. She is ethereal in appearance; many descriptions of her say she’s so white she appears translucent as she blends in with the swirling snows around her. The only thing that stands out is her long, black hair.
She is said to float across the snowy landscape, riding the blizzard winds. No footprints are left behind. Many say she has no feet at all, which is typical of a ghost or spirit. She can transform at will into snow or mist if she feels threatened or needs to disappear quickly. If you touch her, she’s very cold (a given since she’s you know, a snow woman).
Though she’s often described as beautiful, her eyes are said to freeze a mortal in place from fear.
I don’t know about you but if someone like this was staring at me….
I’d not only freeze in fear but I’d probably lose control of all bodily functions.
As you can probably tell by both of these pictures, Yuki Onna is not someone you’d probably make friends with. Generally, most people don’t survive if they come in contact with her (especially if they get close enough to see her creepy eyes). However, there are stories of survivors–namely, the famous retelling by Lafcadio Hearn in his collection of ghost stories called Kwaidan.
A young woodcutter was blessed enough to be spared by the snow woman, if he promised to keep it secret that he’d seen her. A year later, he encounters a beautiful woman on the road. Eventually, they marry; she bears him many children and their life is good…until he ultimately breaks his promise and tells his wife about his earlier encounter with the eerie snow woman.
Of course, his wife is none other than the Yuki Onna. Instead of killing him, she leaves, but threatens that he had better take good care of their children or else he will die. She disappears into the snow never to be seen again.
So the guy was lucky enough to be spared by her TWO times. 😛
The Yuki-Onna legend is told throughout the country. In some regions, she’s said to be carrying a baby and implores passers-by to help her. When said helpful person stops to help by holding the infant, the child becomes increasingly heavy so they cannot move. Of course, with it being winter, they eventually succumb to the cold and freeze to death.
Others tell of a snow woman who will beckon weary mountain travelers to their death in dark ravines. Still others tell of a woman who will pull out your soul or liver if you come too close.
Pleasant little lady isn’t she?
Of course, not all stories revolving around this phantom of the snow are vengeful in nature. There are a few instances where she’s more or less benign. But it’s a rare instance indeed.
So, where exactly did this Yuki Onna originate? Well, some say she was a woman who died in a snowstorm, consumed by bitter feelings (the version I’m using in my own novel). Others say she’s the spirit of the snow itself–beautiful, yet unpredictable. One myth from the prefecture of Yamagata even says she’s a moon princess who grew bored of life on the moon and descended to earth for a little adventure. However, once she came to earth, she could no longer return her lunar home. So, she roams the earth and is seen during a calm winter’s night, where the moonlight illuminates her ghostly form.
So, if you’re ever wondering around the Japanese mountains when a snowstorm comes upon you, beware–the Yuki-onna may be watching. 🙂