Yuki no Onna

Here’s another favorite among the folklore of Japan, the Snow Maiden – Yuki no Onna.

The Snow Maiden is purported as a young, beautiful woman, with long, black hair and pale skin that was cold to the touch. Most likely to be seen in a snowstorm or a snowy landscape wearing a white kimono. The origin of the Yuki no Onna is up to some debate, she might be a snow spirit, but some believe she might have been the manifestation of a young woman who perished in the middle of the snowstorm. She is portrayed as violent and aggressive, but also loving and motherly.

But let’s talk stories. The most common thread of a story involving the Yuki no Onna was written by Koizumi Yakumo aka Lafcadio Hearn. The story goes that there were two woodcutters, an old one and a young one, and when they were on their way back from the forest, a storm suddenly hit and they went into a small hut to seek shelter. During the night, the Yuki no Onna burst into the room bringing with her a flood of snow. The old woodcutter was buried under the avalanche, but when the Yuki no Onna saw the young (and handsome, did I forget to mention handsome?) woodcutter, she fell in love with him and decided to grant him mercy. But she leaves with the parting words that if he ever tells anyone what happened tonight, she would be forced to kill him.

A year later, the young woodcutter met a beautiful young woman named Yuki. They fell in love, got married and had many children, each of whom were pale and lovely just like Yuki, who no matter how many years past, never seemed to lose her youth and vitality. Ahem.

Some years later, the young woodcutter blurted out his long-kept secret to Yuki. One explanation was that he suddenly remember it and thought nothing of sharing it with his wife, another was the memory of that night had been torturing him for years and he couldn’t keep the secret any longer. Either way, after he tells her, Yuki in turn tells him she was the Yuki no Onna that night and hadn’t he promised to keep his mouth shut? Well, there’s a reason they say it’s dead men tell no tales. But in the end, she spares him once again, for love of their children. She tells him to take care of them and disappears.

Maybe as a consequence of this tale, the Yuki no Onna has become synonymous to a woman who loves as passionately as she hates. She will stay true to her love, but reject or humiliate her, and you will end up begging for your life.

On a side note, I often wonder why these stories, the Yuki no Onna, the kitsune – they all end up with the mother/youkai leaving after she’d been found out even though all elements point that the family wouldn’t have minded if she stayed. There’s some sense of ingrained belief that youkai and human weren’t meant to live together and an assumption that the human life was somehow better. You notice these mothers don’t usually take their kids with them even though they’re portrayed with all the qualities of a human woman. The idea itself is possible, they manage to make it years before their families realized, so it’s an interesting thought to explore.

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3 thoughts on “Yuki no Onna

  1. Pingback: Nurre-Onna | whisperingdark

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