- Japanese: 雪女 ("snow woman")
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 her pubic hair is visible against the white of her robes and the snow, and in others it is a splattering of blood on her robe that is visible. This ghost only is 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. In this manner, her behavior is consistent with that of ubume, a ghost of a woman who has died in childbirth. 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, a 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 (a common development in many Japanese folktales) which causes her to leave him, or else the yuki-onna will melt as soon as the spring's warmth comes.
Two Tales of the Yuki-Onna
The most popularly-known story of yuki-onna is the Lafcadio Hearn tale of the same name. In his folkltale anthology Kwaidan, he writes from memory a story told him by his Japanese wife. In the story, 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. This story was written by Richard Gordon Smith, in the book Ancient Tales and Folklore of Japan.
Yuki-Onna in Fiction
- Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, Lafcadio Hearn.
- Ancient Tales and Folklore of Japan, Richard Gordon Smith.
- Kwaidan, Masaki Kobayashi, 1965
- Yokai Daisenso (English: The Great Yokai War), Takashi Miike, 1995