BoSt Galleries Snow Exhibit
Japanese Folklore – Yuki Onna
In Japanese folklore there is a well-known legend of a snow woman, who is manifestation of a Yokai, or spirit, associated with winter and snowstorms. In some variations of the legend she is the spirit, or ghost, of someone who had tragically perished in the snow. She has many forms; snow granny, snow hag and sometimes a young, beautiful woman; but always carries the name Yuki Onna.
On snowy nights she appears to travelers in the storm as a tall, beautiful woman with long cascading black hair and blue lips whose eyes can strike terror into the hearts of mere mortals. Her skin is pale and transparent to the point of being invisible so that she blends in perfectly with the snow covered landscape. She is frequently depicted in a white kimono though some illustrations show her nude, so that only her face and hair stand out in the snowstorm. She floats across the snow without leaving footprints since, like most ghosts, she has no feet and when she is threatened she can instantly transform into mist, a snow flurry or a cloud.
Until the 18th Century Yuki Onna was portrayed as an evil spirit, but modernization shifted the emphasis to her ghost-like nature, human origins and her transient beauty. She would come as an apparition to travelers and lead them astray so they died of exposure, if she did not use her icy breath to immediately freeze them in place. In some tales she is content to let her victims die but in others she drains her victims of their life force like a vampire. Sometimes Yuki Onna takes on the aspect of a succubus, draining the life out of weak-willed, unfaithful men through a kiss, or by copulation. She may manifest holding a child, especially one who is lost in the storm. Parents searching for their lost children are easy prey as, when they attempt to take the child from her, they are frozen in place by her touch. In some tales she is aggressive, blowing down the door of homes with a violent gust of wind and freezing the residents in their sleep. In most of these tales, however, she is unable to enter the home unless she has been invited by the residents.
She does have a softer side and may sometimes succumb to love and maternal instincts.
In a popular rendition of tale retold by Lafcadio Hearn Yuki-Onna does release a young boy because of his beauty and age, but not before securing a promise from him: that he never speaks of her. Unfortunately, in his middle age he does confess the secret to his wife who then instantly transforms back into the snow woman. She reviles him for breaking his promise, but once more spares him, this time out of concern for their children. She does caution him however, that if he ever mistreats their children she will return to exact vengeance, and this time will show no mercy. Fortunately for him he is a doting father and he lives the rest of his life in safety and peace.