My journey through the world of writing and everything that lies in between…

Archive for the ‘culture’ Category

Hags and Beauties: Hari-onago/Hari-onna

Today’s lovely woman of mythology is the Hari-onago/Hari-onna. The hooked hair woman.

Hari-onago is an extremely beautiful and enchanting woman–except for the fact the ends of her hair are razor sharp hooks.

Legends say she comes from Ehime prefecture. Unlike the others this week, she’s more of a local legend rather than a national one.  However, her notoriety has spread throughout the country and she’s even made appearances in the famous anime anime InuYasha as well as making an appearance in a video game. 

What exactly does she use her massively long and dangerous hair for? To trap men, of course. She preys upon them, much like a vampire. It’s said she will smile and laugh at whatever boy catches her fancy, and if he laughs back, she extends her hair and captures him with her hooks and mutilates him in the process.

One has to wonder why she goes around laughing at her prey and daring them to laugh back. I suppose that’s her way of capturing them.

Not many stories exist of one escaping–she has the uncanny ability to make her victims laugh. However there is one instance where a young man somehow escaped being ensnared in her hooked hair by shutting her out of his house. The hooks left deep gashes in the door, but the young man escaped harm.

At least it wasn’t a paper door, like many of the doors in Japan, or the story would’ve ended differently.

Hags & Beauties: Yama-uba

Ah, the Yama-uba. Literally, it means “mountain crone”–and that’s exactly what she is.

yamauba1She’s not a very pleasant looking woman is she? She’s the prototypical “old hag”, who lives far off in the deep forests or high mountains of Japan. She’s normally fairly hideous in appearance with messy long hair, tattered clothes and a large mouth. However, it’s been said that she can alter her appearance in order to capture her victims.

Her prey is the poor lost traveler in the woods (much like that of Yuki-onna). She will sometimes transform into a beautiful woman in order to capture their attention. Other times she maintains her old crone appearance and beg said victim for help. She gains their trust and when they least expect it, she kills them and feeds on their flesh (gotta love canibalism…)

If the traveler is in need of help himself, she will offer her hut for safety. Still in other cases she will lure the victim to his death by having him fall off the side of a mountain, where she can feed on his corpse. Some legends say she can animate her hair, much like that of the Futakuchi-onna; others say her hair turns into snakes. Her diet isn’t limited to lost traveling adults; it’s also said she will prey on children as well.

Yama-uba isn’t invincible though, like the Yuki-onna. Various legends say she’s only nocturnal and she’s frozen in the sunlight. Other legends say her soul is captured in a flower, and if the flower is destroyed so is she. She’s also said to be quite gullible so that her victims will often trick her to find escape. Like any good mountain hag legend, it’s known that she’s quite skilled in sorcery and potions, and sometimes she will barter this information to someone in exchange for a much steeper price.

However, Yama-uba is known to have a benevolent side. A very popular legend centers around the folk hero and superhuman warrior Sakata Kintoki, or otherwise known as Kintaro. Yama-uba took in the orphan Kintaro and raised him as her son. Their relationship is depicted as quite loving; she the doting mother and him the dutiful son.Utamaro2 The legend helped influence more modern tales that show her more as a matronly figure rather than the horrible cannibalistic hag.

Other legends simply say she’s a woman of nature, and she represents humanity’s harmony with natural surroundings. So, she can be a multitude of different beings.

Origins of the story are thought to have their roots in a time when famine made it to where villagers had to abandon their elderly in the woods because of lack of food. Stories with the Yama-uba have existed for a thousand years or more, many of them tracing back to the Heian period (794-1185 A.D.).

She’s a quite popular subject still in Japan, ranging from Noh plays that have her as the main player, to books, and even an odd fashion trend that started back in the ’90s  called “Yamanba.”

Apparently, the mountain crone still lives on. 🙂

Hags & Beauties: Futakuchi-Onna

Today’s lovely mythological woman of Japan is the ever creepy Futakuchi-Onna (quite a mouthful, huh?).

What is this legendary monster exactly? Well, she’s basically a woman with a mouth on the back of her head.

Yes, you read that right–a mouth on the back of her head.

From first glance, the Futakuchi-Onna looks like a normal woman. She’s often pretty and nothing is really out of the ordinary…until her hair parts and a second mouth appears.futakuchi-onna-takehara

Not only does she have a mouth on the back of her head, but the mouth tends to have a personality all its own. In some tellings of the legend, the mouth will harass the woman and threaten her until its fed. It has quite a voracious appetite as well, consuming at least twice as much as the woman and her normal mouth.

If the afflicted woman doesn’t feed the supernatural mouth, it screeches and screams causing her a great deal of pain. Over time, the mouth pretty much gains control over the back of her head, controlling the woman’s own hair as a pair of arms or tentacles, allowing it to feed itself.

The origins of the mysterious mouth generally are linked to how much (or rather how little) a woman eats. The general legend surrounding this states that the woman is normally the wife of an old miser and rarely is able to eat. The mouth somehow appears on the back of her head, probably to counteract the fact that she’s not eating. Though she herself may continue to not eat, the mouth will somehow find food to feed itself.

Another story has the woman being accidentally struck in the head by her husband’s ax (how one can be accidentally struck by an ax is another story in itself…) and somehow the wound transforms into a mouth. Still another story is the typical “wicked stepmother” stereotype, with the woman allowing her stepchild to starve to death while keeping her own children well fed. The mouth appears on the back of her head as a form of punishment, and is often thought that it’s the stepchild’s spirit returning to exact revenge on his stepmother.

The futakuchi-onna is a popular myth in Japan, often appearing in many manga and anime series in some form or another. I think it’s one of the creepier legends to come from their mythology.

Let this be a lesson then–don’t starve yourself or else a second mouth might appear on the back of your head. Also, stay away from husbands/significant others who are chopping wood 😛

Hags & Beauties: The Yuki-Onna

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.


The Yuki Onna by YoshiyukiKatana

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….


Notice the eyes...

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.

She's calling out to you...

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. 🙂

Mythical Creatures of Japan

Ok, so let’s just say I couldn’t wait all the way until Monday to let you all know what my blog series is gonna be about 😛 I’m impatient.

Basically, it’s what’s implied in the title. Initially I was going to do just one week, but I decided I’d try and stretch it for most of the month of November 🙂 Lucky you!

I’m going to focus on different categories of creatures, from shape-shifting animals to silly little household imps. It should be lots of fun.

Maybe, just maybe, I’ll do other series throughout the year on mythical beings around the world. That’s a little far in the future–I’d just like to get through the next month–but that may be something that I’ll examine on this blog. I figure it’s a good way to tie into my book, which is about one of these mythical creatures (and yes, there will be an entire entry devoted to her :))

You’ll still have to wait and see which category will be up first!

Let me know what you think. Hoping there’s some interest out there; if not, it will at least be for my benefit, right?

Character Name Hunt

I’ve been actively hunting for names for the characters in LotS (ha, I love the shortened version of my book’s title :P). I’m one of those writers that has to find names that are symbolic for the characters, too, so it makes it even harder than just searching for names.

Oh, and the names are Japanese, so the hunting has been even harder. It’s not like searching for a name in English where despite the spelling, it generally means the same thing. For example, in English,  my sister’s name, Caitlynn, can be spelled many different ways: Caitlyn, Caitlin, Kaitlyn, Kaitlin, Katelyn etc. But the variants are all based off the Irish or Welsh version of Catherine, which means “pure.”

 However, from what I’ve found, Japanese names may sound and be spelled the same in English, but it could be totally different Japanese, depending on what kanji is used in the spelling of the name.

For example, one of the names I’m considering for my MC:

Spelled “Miyuki” in English. However, it can mean anything from “beautiful snow” with the kanji 美幸 to “deep snow” with the kanji 深雪, to “beautiful fortune” or “beautiful happiness” with the kanji 美幸. That’s not counting the hiragana and katakana spellings. And even these may be wrong; I can’t read Japanese so these characters can be completely off.

Anyway, I’ve decided to try and not focus too much on the techinical aspects and just focus on the English spellings, at least for now.

Here are some of the possibilities for my MC, the legendary Yuki-onna. I’m giving her a human name, for much of the book she’s going to be human:

Chiyoko (child of a thousand generations, child of forever). This one could be interesting since she spands at least three centuries.
Kasumi (mist) I like the way this one sounds, but mist is appropriate in some ways because as the Yuki-onna, she’s not made of much more than that.
Mayumi (beauty, wonderful). Just because I like the name 🙂 And the fact that as a human, she’s renown for her beauty.
Miyuki–silence of deep snow/beautiful snow/deep snow . This one is fairly obvious; I’m leaning towards this one the most because of the “snow” aspect, and it’s more elegent than just plain Yuki.
I’m also in the process of picking out names for the minor characters, but I’m not as concerned about the meanings for them. The only one that’s close to certain will be her husband Minokichi, whose name is taken directly from the myth in Hearn’s Kwaiden, which I’m using as inspiration for the second half of my novel. Even then, I’m not 100% certain on keeping the name, but we’ll see.

Do you put a lot of work into finding the perfect names for your characters? How do you go about it? If your characters are set in a different culture, how do you overcome the hurdles of the language barrier?

As always, I love to read your comments! And I don’t mind hearing any constructive criticism on the names I’ve chosen here, too 🙂

Lady of the Snow: The Setting

I finally narrowed down the actual town setting of Lady of the Snow. After hours of searching through various places in Japan (literally, I lost track–it had to be 8-10 over the past two weeks), I decided to set it in the picturesque Nikko.

It was the place that I instantly felt was right for the setting. I had a few other possibilities but none resonated with me like Nikko. Why did I choose the city? A number of factors:

  • The town existed when my book starts (Muromachi period, circa 1350s or so) and already was a well-established village (founded sometime in the 700s)
  • The climate. The town had to be in a pretty mountainous area (which isn’t hard to find in Japan). What cinched it though was the fact that Nikko is known for having a climate similar to the chilly region of Hokkaido because of its elevation. This means that this is a great place for a lady of the winter since winter is longer here than in other areas.
  • The temples, specifically Futarasan Shrine, which enshrines Ōkuninushi, the ruler of the unseen world of spirits. Not sure how much it will play a part in the book, if any, but it seemed like something I may be able to use 🙂 (Also, if you look at the Wiki page about the shrine, the bridge that leads to the shrine, called the Sacred Bridge, was once the header of my blog)
  • The picturesque scenery 🙂

I know that the most well known version of the legend (and the one I’m basing parts of my story off of) has it in an unnamed village in the old Musashi province (modern day Tokyo Prefecture, Saitama Prefecture and part of Kanagawa Prefecture) but I couldn’t seem to find a place to set it that I liked. I hesitated at first but realized it’s my book and I can set it anywhere in Japan I want 😛

Now to figure out other characters besides Yuki-onna and the two love interests. 😛 And I also need to figure out a name for her from her human life…then it’s time to plot the out the book.

Legends and Myths

I’ve recently found that I’m becoming more and more fascinated by mythology. I think part of it has to do with what I’ve recently read (Silver Phoenix and Wings), and I’m one of those people that will obsessively research and read up on something of interest. Inevitably this leads to me coming up with a plethora of story ideas too 🙂

I find it very interesting how different parts of the world have their own myths, but what’s more intriguing  is how similar some of the myths are, especially in opposite corners of the world. For example, the common myth of fairies is present in many cultures, from Europe to Asia. It makes one wonder what sort of common phenomenon people attribute the existence of fairies to whether that’s ghosts or demons or something completely unknown to us. There’s just so much of our world that I believe we’ll never know or understand.

Anyway, since I have such an interest in Far Eastern cultures, I ended up finding a huge Wiki article on the legendary creatures of Japan. Some of the little creatures are quite comical, while others are beyond terrifying.

Some of the ones I’ve found particularly interesting:

Akaname – the spirit who licks the bathroom. It looks like a frog type critter. I don’t know about you, but as creepy as this sounds, I wouldn’t mind a critter cleaning my bathroom 😛

Bakezōri – a sandal spirit (specifically the zori sandals that are similar to flip flops). The Wiki article has a picture of a stature of it and it looks very similar to the cartoon character of Plankton from SpongeBob.

Gashadokuro – a giant skeleton, the spirit of the unburied dead. One word for this: FREAKY. It’s what nightmares are made of.

Hone-onna – a skeleton woman. She’s more of what is called an “energy vampire” or a succubus. She preys on men and drains their life from them in order to live. I’ll leave it up to your imagination on how exactly she does that.

Yuki-onna – the snow woman. One of the most intriguing in my opinion. She’s often seen in a snow storm and there are varying stories about her, from leading lost travellers astray and killing them with her icy breath to entering a mountain family’s household and killing them as they sleep (most of the time she has to be invited in, according to legends). But other legends depict her as a bit more human, although conflicted.

Anyway, I’m thinking that after my current book is done, I’ll be working on something concerned with mythology. I’ve already got a few short story ideas for some of these legendary spirits.

Writing About a Different Culture

If you’ve even followed this blog for a little bit, you probably know that I’m writing a novel set in Japan in 1890, with an MC that’s half Japanese and half American. I simply love writing about other cultures, but I know for a fact I am probably writing the culture wrong. I know there are aspects of my story that need changing because I put my Western viewpoint on Eastern characters–a big no-no if the book is going to get any respect.

 I am at a disadvantage because of it and it does get overwhelming a lot of the time. I’m often asking myself,”why couldn’t you have just set this in a place where you know the culture?” But then the other part chimes in, saying “Because you LOVE this. You love the culture, even if it’s not your own.”

So I press onward, marking the places I know I’ll have to go back and research, hoping that there’s not too many changes needed (I am trying my best the first time to get as many aspects about the culture correct as possible). I am certain though, that if this gets published, there will be those readers/reviewers that criticize me, asking why this thoroughly Caucasian girl wrote about a culture completely different from her own. Simple answer: Because I love it.

 I don’t think we should be narrowed by our heritage in what we write. Obviously, we’ll know most about our own culture and feel most comfortable writing about that. If we are writing about one that’s different from ours, we have to be careful not to put our own cultural views on it. I am assuming the reason this isn’t done very often is because it can be a difficult process and because of the amount of research needed to portray the story accurately. But it’s worth it.

I’m always finding something new about the Japanese culture that I find so fascinating–especially how it was back in the 1890s! I guess my point after this rambling post is this: don’t be afraid to branch out and write about another culture. It can be daunting but very rewarding too. And don’t let other’s comments dissuade you either–prove them wrong 🙂

A New Release Tomorrow!

For those of you who like YA fantasy, Cindy Pon’s debut novel Silver Phoenix comes out tomorrow!

Silver Phoenix
Silver Phoenix

I’m not normally a huge fantasy fan, but this one definitely got my attention! It sounds like a thrilling read and you better believe I will be heading to B&N after work tomorrow to see if it’s come in yet 🙂

Of course, another reason I’m drawn to the story is because of the culture. Even though it’s fantasy, it’s based on ancient China. I have a passion for Asian cultures, whether it’s Chinese, Japanese, Korean…

Perhaps it’s just my passion for world cultures in general 😛 I’m always looking for books that are set in a period and culture distant from my American/European setting and heritage  (although I’m in love with those too!). I suppose it’s pretty much anything with a historical flavor and recently, those with a little fantasy in them too.
But I’m super excited about ones like Silver Phoenix, since my own novel is set in in the Far East. There aren’t many out there like this one and it’s thrilling to see more Asian themed books on the market. It gives me hope that there may be a market for mine, should it ever reach publishable quality.
Anyway, head on over to Cindy’s site and watch her book trailer (I linked it up in the beginning of the post). I keep watching it over and over again!
Thanks to Jeannie who alerted me to the early release of the novel. Here’s hoping that we’ll be seeing her own novel soon (another that I’d definitely be purchasing).

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