The Japanese Snow Maiden

It seems appropriate to be writing of this first spirit as snowflakes are currently swirling around my house. The cold, whiteness outside does seem magical to a Southern girl like me and I can start to understand why stories like the one I am writing about came to be. While I don’t think I will be visited by any spirits in this storm (or the one that may come next weekend), this storm is setting the correct mood for this topic. Before I continue, go grab something warm to drink like coffee or hot chocolate. Yuki-Onna may be returning today and I would hate for you to freeze while you were reading this post about her.

In Japan, where there seems to be a ghost for everything, there is even a snow spirit. Depending on where you are in Japan, there are different versions of this yokai. Yuki-Onna means Snow Woman in Japanese. There seem to be two main versions of Yuki-Onna. In one she is just a quiet visitor meaning no harm. In the other version, she is a murderess seeking revenge for her own death.

The oldest stories about her talk about how she would visit homes during the beginning of a snowstorm and ask to sit by the irori (a sunken hearth in Japanese homes used for cooking and warmth). She is said to be extremely beautiful and sweet. She is described as having skin as white as snow, brightly colored eyes, dressed in a white kimono, and having either jet black hair or pure white hair. Those that claim to see her walking in the snow say that she doesn’t leave any footprints in the snow. It is said that the people in the home, often an older couple, are very taken with her charming ways and allow her to sit by their fire. At some point during the storm, the Yuki-Onna will attempt to leave the home but is often stopped by the homeowner who wants her to wait until the snowstorm has passed for her to leave. If the homeowner touches the Yuki-Onna, they will be shocked at how cold she is even though she has been sitting by the fire for hours. She, then in return, will disappear in an icy mist that goes up the chimney and into the snowstorm.

In some versions of this gentle version of the Yuki-Onna, men will claim to have married this beautiful woman who showed up on their porch looking for warmth. The couple will have a happy marriage with children until the husband figures out that he has married a yokai. When the truth is revealed, the Yuki-Onna will take a hot bath and melt away. The only thing left behind are some half frozen icicles floating in the warm water. This version is often confused with Tsurara Onna (Icicle Woman). The difference between a Yuki-Onna and Tsurara Onna is a man wishes for a woman as beautiful as an icicle and a Yuki-Onna appears of her own free will.

The other, slightly more terrifying version of the Yuki-Onna is the one that kills people. Often thought that she would appear on January 15th or when the moon was full during a snowstorm, she will hunt anyone that walks the mountain pass that she is guarding or approach people as they walk home. She will blow an icy breath at them or touch the person causing them to instantly freeze death. Sometimes if the person is young and beautiful like she is, she will spare their life but only if they promise to never tell anyone about their meeting. It is thought that this version of the Yuki-Onna is killing people because of her own death in the snow either by accident or because someone killed her during a snowstorm.

There are versions of this Yuki-Onna appearing with a small child. In this version, she begs people to hug her child to warm the child up. If they refuse to hug the child, the Yuki-Onna will have them thrown into a snowdrift where they will freeze to death. If the passing people chose to hug the child, the child becomes unbearably heavy but the person is unable to put them down. The person is then stuck in the storm until they are covered in snow and end up dying from the cold. Either way, the person is most likely going to die. A warrior once claimed to survive hugging the child by holding a short dagger to the child while hugging it. When the warrior released the child back to the Yuki-Onna, the spirit gave him treasures for giving her back her child. Then both the child and the Yuki-Onna changed into snowflakes and disappeared.

This winter, if you find yourself in the presence of a beautifully pale woman, I hope she leaves you in peace and not frozen somewhere. If she happens to have a kid with her, RUN and then let me know about the encounter. I don’t advise pulling a dagger on a kid in this day and age. If you do, please don’t tell the police my blog told you to.

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