Saturday, January 26, 2013

Evil Ghost: Yuki-onna--Snow Woman

This traditional ghost legend is the subject of many books, comics, films, and animation in Japan. Lafcadio Hearn’s definitive book written in 1904, about Japanese ghosts, includes the tale of Yuki-onna—meaning snow woman. 

This particular ghost traditionally freezes or kills her human victims. Up until the 18th century Yuki-onna was always betrayed as evil, a spirit that preys upon unsuspecting humans. 

More recent tales focus on her beauty, she is betrayed with more humanlike traits. Even more recently, she is described as having vampire-like characteristics. 

But it is the more traditional tales that are fascinating.

She appears at night during bad snowstorms. She is described as very beautiful and appears wearing a white kimono. Other legends state she actually is nude, with only her face and hair standing out. She is often described as being very pale or even transparent for her figure blends in with the snow that surrounds her.

Despite her beauty, it is said her eyes terrify mere mortals. She is seen as she floats across the snow, never leaving footprints. In yet other tales, it is stated she has no feet—a trait common to female Japanese ghosts. 

It is believed that at any sign of danger, she just turns into a cloud or mist or even snow. She is associated with snow because she died in a snowstorm.

In many tales, Yuki-onna appears to travelers that find themselves trapped in snowstorms. She does not help these unfortunate souls. Instead, she turns them into frost-covered corpses. 

Or she simply leads these lost travelers astray, so they die of exposure. 

In other stories, she is described as holding a child. When her victim takes this child to help her, they become frozen in place. It is said parents looking for lost children often fall victim to this tactic.

Even more frightening tales are told about Yuki-onna. In these stories she invades homes, blowing in the door. It is said this chilly gust of wind kills the mortals inside while they sleep. * 

Being heartless, she enjoys watching her victims die. Other tales state she kills her victims to take their “life-force.” 

Yuki-onna is even sometimes betrayed as a kind of succubus that preys on weak males, to drain, or freeze them through sex or a kiss.

She is sometimes betrayed as having a softer side. In the popular Lafcadio Hearn version, she actually spares one of her victims. She then takes on a mortal appearance to marry him. 

Most surprising is when he betrays a promise, he made to her, she still spares his life.

In Hearn’s story, two woodcutters becoming lost in a particularly bad snowstorm. One woodcutter is young—Minokichi, the other is old—Mosaku. These two men come upon an isolated hut in the mountains where they take refuge and sleep. 

Mosaku is awakened to find a stunning young woman wearing white clothes, gazing down upon him. She breathes on him, and he freezes to death.

Yuki-onna then approaches the young Minokichi to breathe upon him. But she stops struck by his “beauty.” She decides she will not kill him, but as he wakes, she warns him that he must not tell any living soul that she has spared his life. She then explains if he betrays her, she will return and kill him.

A few years later Minokichi meets a lovely young woman named Oyuki—yuki meaning snow. He falls in love and marries her. She is a good wife, and the couple have several children. They manage to live happily together, and Minokichi notes his wife does not appear to age. 

One night after their children are in bed, Minokichi tells his wife that she sometimes reminds him of a mysterious woman he had met years before.

He describes the beautiful woman to his wife, and states he didn’t know if his memory was just a dream, or if this woman was a “Yuki-onna…” 

After he finishes his tale, Oyuki stands up abruptly. “That woman you met was me! I told you that I would kill you if you ever told anyone about that incident. However, I can’t kill you because of our children.” 

She then starts to melt, “Take care of our children…”** Then she just disappears. It is said Minokichi never saw her again.

* Some legends state she must be invited in first. 

** This version states that Minokichi was saved because he was a good, and kind father. 

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