Happy 92nd Birthday Shigeru Mizuki!!!

Shigeru Mizuki Birthday Cake

Shigeru Mizuki is 92 years old today. (A day early, I know. But March 8th falls a day earlier in Japan.) On his last birthday, he was already hailed as the world’s oldest working comic book artist. He still holds that title—just another year older.

Mizuki Shigeru Drawing

And yes, I do mean “working” comic book artist. Last year in December he announced his new comic, Watashi no Hibi (My Everyday). He also launched a new book this February touting his love of life and hamburgers and junk food called If You Go Ahead and Eat, You’ll Be Happy – The Daily Life of the Mizuki Brothers. In a recent interview, when asked if he had any doubts about taking on new work at his advanced age, Mizuki thought about it for only a brief second and replied:

Shigeru Mizuki My Everyday

“That’s something I really can’t understand. Why doubt yourself? It feels so much better to be proud—to have confidence.

I’m 91 years old, but I’m not finished yet. I’m still bursting with dreams.”

That’s beautiful.

Shigeru Mizuki Go Ahead And Eat

There is no word I can think of that encapsulates Japan feels about Shigeru Mizuki other than “beloved.” He is, to the country, a sort of living Buddha; an embodiment of joy and happiness and imagination. In 2010 he was officially recognized by the Japanese government as a Person of Cultural Merit. In 2012, a TV show called Gegege no Nyobo portrayed the romantic story of how he met his wife through an arranged marriage and how they fell in love anyways.

Mizuki and Wife Statue

Like Osamu Tezuka and Hayao Miyazaki, he is one of those rare individuals who shapes the fantasy dreams of an entire country. (I might even say that while Tezuka shaped Japan’s dreams of the future, Mizuki shapes its dreams of the past. And Miyazaki its present.) The only conceivable American equivalent I could conceive of might be Walt Disney when he was a living man and not a corporation. Or JRR Tolkien, if he were less academic. Or Willy Wonka if he were real.

“Come with me and you’ll see, a world of pure imagination … “

We love Shigeru Mizuki!

Mizuki is an artist and a scholar whose work transcends genre and medium. He was born March 8th, 1922 in a small fishing town in Tottori prefecture called Sakaiminato. From a young age he was recognized as an artistic prodigy. His work was published in local newspapers and magazines, and he had his first solo exhibition while he was still in Elementary school.

3years

His career as a comic artist began when he returned home from WWII, his drawing arm lost to an Australian bomb while he was in a hospital suffering from malaria. (For more, see Mizuki Shigeru in Rabaul) Mizuki relearned how to draw with his left arm, and began a brief career as a kamishibai artist making paintings for the paper theater popular at the time.

Young Mizuki Shigeru Student

Soldier Shigeru Mizuki

He transitioned into the fledgling manga market, mostly copying Western superhero comics in his own versions of Superman and Plastic Man.  And he dabbled in Western horror comics along the way. (See Mizuki Shigeru and American Horror Comics)

Shigeru Mizuki Rocketman

He didn’t have his first hit until he was in his 40s, with his horror comics Akuma-kun and Hakaba Kitaro, which later transformed into Gegege no Kitaro (published in English simply as Kitaro.) In the 1960s Mizuki helped pioneer the concept of gekiga or art manga, in the magazine Garo, transitioning comic books from children to adult readers.

cover

In his 60s, bored with the daily grind of manga he embarked on a new career as a world folklorist. He began to seriously study the monster and folklore culture he was so fascinated with, and created a series of encyclopedias that cataloged both Japan and the world’s folklore. His work was recognized for his scholarly nature and he was invited as a member of The Japanese Society of Cultural Anthropology.

Mizuki Shigeru in Rapaul

In the late 1980s, during Japan’s infamous “Bubble Era,” he was disgusted with the government of Japan attempting to cover up their wartime atrocities, and the children of Japan ignorant of their own past. Never one to play it safe, Mizuki responded with powerful works like Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths and the epic Showa: A History of Japan. He continues to fight against right-wing militarism and government mind control, in favor of what Thomas Jefferson called The Pursuit of Happiness. Like himself, he prefers a world “bursting with dreams.”

Mizuki_Shigeru_Showa_Book

One of the things I love so much about Shigeru Mizuki the person is that—for all his legendary status—he remains very human. He is not aloof and imperious like Hayao Miyazaki. Mizuki Shigeru posts pictures of himself chowing down on fast foods. He picks his nose. He is very much a man who inhabits a human body, and isn’t ashamed of it, and he doesn’t distance himself. But he loves life and attacks it with gusto.

Shigeru Mizuki Instant Ramen

It is my great privilege and pleasure to translate some of Mizuki Shigeru’s works and make them available for the English speaking world. That is a wider world than you would think. Many more people world-wide speak English than Japanese—even as a second language—and I have gotten emails from people as far away from Brazil excited to be reading Mizuki’s works for the first time.

I’ve been a fan of Mizuki’s works since I discovered them in Japan more than a decade ago, and I honestly thought they would never get English translations. They were just too weird; too … “Japanese” for lack of a better word. But now they are here, and with more to come. I am especially glad that the Western world discovered Mizuki Shigeru while he is still alive. Too often we wait until someone is dead to properly honor them.

Shigeru Mizuki Hamburger

And every time I see Mizuki Shigeru’s grinning face, I hear the whisper of Yoda coming somewhere in the background.

“When 900 years old you are, look as good you will not.”

Damn straight. Dream on, beautiful dreamer.

Mizuki Shigeru 91 Birthday

Further Reading:

At long last, Shigeru Mizuki’s fine works are available in English. Do yourself a favor and read them all!

Mizuki Shigeru and American Horror Comics

Kitaro_and_Four_Color_Fear

When you think of influences on Japanese comic book legend Mizuki Shigeru, names like Basil Wolverton, Bob Powell, and Warren Kremmer don’t usually spring to mind. After all, those artists drew for 1950s American horror comics like Tomb of Terror and Crypt of Horror. They hardly seem like source material for a young man thousands of miles across the ocean. Where would he find them? And if he did find them, how could he read them?

But the influence is obvious. Mizuki Shigeru’s early work has the same shadowy gloom, the same lines and dramatic poses. This is especially true in Mizuki’s comic Hakuba Kitaro (Graveyard Kitaro), his darker, more horrific version of his famous character Kitaro before it was lightened and made more child-friendly at the publisher’s request. The opening story in Hakuba Kitaro—called Kitaro no Tanjobi or Kitaro’s Birthday—in particular looks and feels like a 1950s EC comic. If it weren’t for the Japanese lettering and some of the faces, Kitaro no Tanjobi could easily have risen from Tales from the Crypt or Vault of Horrors.

Mizuki has never been shy about these influences. He is widely read, and was fascinated with American and European authors and philosophers. He borrowed freely for his comics, adapting obscure horror authors like W. F. Harvey, whose 1928 story The Beast with Five Fingers was transformed into the Kitaro adventure The Hand. (See Kitaro and the Beast with Five Fingers.)

In his historical/auto-biographical comic Showa: A History of Japan Mizuki describes how American comics came into his hands. In the post-war period, Mizuki’s father had a position working with the occupation government. Mizuki’s father spoke English and even worked as an English teacher, which made him a valuable bridge between the occupiers and the native Japanese. Mizuki’s father knew his son was struggling, trying to break into the fledgling kashihon rental-comic market after his former kamishibai (paper theater) business had vanished. He brought home the various comic books left behind by American GIs and civilians working in the occupational government, and gave them to his son to use as reference material and inspiration for his own comics.

It is pretty obvious which American comic inspired Mizuki’s first hit with the kashihon rental-comic market. Although he called his version Rocketman, Mizuki made no attempt to disguise the character’s origin, and didn’t even bother to alter the famous “S”-shield on the chest into an “R”—which would have been more appropriate for “Rocketman.” Mizuki may have taken the look of Superman directly from the comic, but he told it with his own sense of whimsy and style. It almost looks like he is imitating the Fleisher Brothers’ Popeye cartoons instead of Superman, as Rocketman flexes a muscle in the shape of an atomic bomb’s mushroom cloud to show off just how mighty he is.

Shigeru Mizuki RocketmanSo the influence was always there. But it wasn’t until the publication of Fantagraphics’ Four Color Fear: Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950s that it became clear just how much of an influence there was. (Or at least until a copy of that book found its way into the hands of Natsume Fusanosuke who wrote the initial blog that inspired this post.

In the time-honored tradition of comic artists, it looks like Mizuki Shigeru may have had his own “swipe file” of poses and characters that came straight from American comic book artists.

Shigeru_Mizuki_EC_Comics_1

These first images come from the 1959 kashihon comic Yokaiden by Mizuki Shigeru. There can be no mistake that Mizuki took several of the poses and faces directly from Warren Kremmer’s 1953 comic Amnesia. The poses are identical, even though they are being used for different story elements.

Shigeru_Mizuki_EC_Comics_2

The biggest surprise—and “Ah ha!” moment—comes when looking at Kitaro’s father. The mummy in these pictures is Kitaro’s father, before he liquefies and renders into the famous version of Medama Oyaji that we all know and love. I always thought this was a weird design for Mizuki. Mummies aren’t exactly prominent in Japanese folklore and horror, and it never really made sense that Mizuki would chose a shambling mummy to represent the last of the Yurei Zoku, the Ghost Tribe, that once ruled over the earth.

Shigeru_Mizuki_EC_Comics_Kitaros_FatherBut here, in Bob Powell’s 1951 comic Servants of the Tomb we see the origin and inspiration of Kitaro’s father. This one isn’t a direct swipe like the others, but it is obvious that Mizuki Shigeru saw this comic and thought enough of the monster to use it for the brief appearance of Kitaro’s father as a whole creature. Finally, the design makes sense.

Bob Powell and Warren Kremmer are in good company. Mizuki Shigeru also collects early European prints by artists like Albrecht Dürer, and uses them for inspiration. I have seen several posts by Mizuki where he shows the original, and his version next to it. He also copies the work of Japanese masters like Toriyama Sekein and Katsushika Hokusai for his Yokai Encyclopedias and print series, and uses famous photographs and historical works of art to ground his series like Showa: A History of Japan.

As Natsume mentions in his article, there are probably more of these swipes from early comics to be discovered by someone with the patience and means to find them. Natsume further speculates that, if American GIs carried American comics with them to Japan and inspired a young Mizuki Shigeru, perhaps they brought them to Europe and influenced a certain young man who would come to be known as the artist Moebius.

Who knows? But American comic art traveled far, and the American GIs served as unknowing Johnny Appleseeds, leaving behind their discarded bits of Americana and pop culture that got absorbed and assimilated into something else, something that has become a foundational element of Japanese culture.

Further Reading:

For more about Mizuki Shigeru, check out:

Mizuki Shigeru in Rabaul

6 Types of Japanese Yokai From Showa

Countdown to Mizuki Shigeru’s Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan

Mizuki Shigeru’s French Fry Heaven

Happy 91st Birthday Mizuki Shigeru!

7 Types of Yokai – Japan’s Snow Monsters

Mizuki Shigeru Snow Monsters of Japan

To learn much more about Japanese Ghosts, check out my book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost

In the frozen north of the Japan, the snow piles deep and high and brings monsters. Whether riding on the avalanche, or coming in the guise of a beautiful young woman or a little lost boy, or hoping on one leg, Japan’s snow yokai are as varied and miraculous as any in folklore. Some are dangerous. Some are famous. Some are sad. Some are spectacular.

Japan’s snow monsters are like the snow itself; they bring comfort, solace, and beauty, but only for awhile. For spring comes, and snow melts, and all things must pass—good or bad.

Click Each Title to Read the Full Story of Each Yokai.

7. Yuki Jiji – The Old Man of the Snow

Mizuki_Shigeru_Yuki_Jiji

An old man who rides the avalanche, or an ancient God of Snow? The Yuki Jiji is a mysterious, powerful figure in Japanese folklore.

6. Yuki Onba and Yukinko – The Snow Mother and the Snow Child

Suuhi_Yuki-onna

Anytime a solitary woman approaches you and asks you to hold her baby for a few seconds, you are in trouble. This wintery variation on the Ubume legend delivers its own chills.

5. Yuki Warashi / Yukinbo – The Snow Babies

Mizuki Shigeru Yukinbo

One is cute and sweet—the answer to a childless couples prayers—and the other is a bizarre creature out of your nightmares.

4. Yukinba/Yukifuriba – The Snow Hags

Bakemono_Yuki-baba

Nothing ambiguous here. The Yukinba and Yukifuriba are terrifying creatures out for blood. The most horrifying of Japan’s snow yokai.

3. Tsurara Onna – The Icicle Woman

Mizuki_Shigeru_Tsurara_Onnna

Does she come to love you, or eat you? The Tsurara Onna goes both ways, and you are never sure just which one is going to come to your door.

2. Oshiroi Baba – The Face Powder Hag

Mizuki_Shigeru_Oshiroibaba

Another oddity of Japanese folklore—is the Oshiroi Baba a dangerous snow hag, or some long-forgotten Goddess of Cosmetics?

1. Yuki Onna – The Snow Woman

Mizuki_Shigeru_Yuki_Onna

By far the most famous of Japan’s snow monsters, the Yuki Onna is an enigma. There are thousands of stories about her, with thousands of variations. Which one is true?

Yuki Jiji – The Old Man of the Snow

Mizuki_Shigeru_Yuki_Jiji

Translated and Sourced from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara, Kaii Yokai Densho Database, Japanese Wikipedia, and Other Sources

In the village of Hishiyama in Nigata prefecture, there is at least one avalanche every year. The snow always comes tumbling down at night, and with it comes the Yuki Jiji—the Old Man of the Snow.

What Does Yuki Jiji Mean?

No mysteries here. His name uses the kanji 雪 (yuki; snow) + 爺 (jiji; old man).

Yuki Jiji and the Avalanche

This story comes from Hishiyama in Nigata prefecture.

Every year in March, the snow comes tumbling down from the mountains in an avalanche. They only come at night, and they always herald the arrival of the Yuki Jiji. He is said to be an old man as white as the snow; white skin, white hair, dressed in a white kimono and bearing a white hei—a staff with plaited paper streamers used in Shinto ceremonies. The Yuki Jiji rides the avalanche, comfortably seated on it as it tumbles down the mountain slopes. Depending on how far the avalanche travels, the Yuki Jiji brings either a good harvest or a poor one.

Yuki Jiji of the Mountains

Yoshitoshi_The_Skulls

There hints of other stories about the Yuki Jiji, that he is a male component of the Yuki Onna—an old man who haunts the snow-covered forests and attacks travelers, or causes them to be lost. Some of these legends paint the Yuki Jiji as a person who froze to death in the mountains, and was reborn as a yokai. These legends are rare, however.

Translator’s Note:

The last of my snow monster series for December, and my last post of the year as I enjoy the Holidays! The Yuki Jiji is one of those yokai with only a single legend—the opposite of his sister the Yuki Onna!

Yuki no Kami

The Yuki Jiji is thought to be an ancient mountain god, properly termed a kami. The presence of his hei, a magical staff used in Shinto rituals, marks him as sacred—as does his connection to the harvest. But whatever cult worshiped him long, long ago he is now a member of the yokai pantheon.

This was a fun and interesting series to work on. I hit almost all the snow monsters, with the sole exception of the Yuki Nyudo (雪入道), a one-legged hopper that is identical to the Yukinbo except an old man instead of a young boy. Sadly, there isn’t much else to say about the Yuki Nyodo. So there is his entry!

Further Reading:

For more snow yokai, check out:

Yuki Onna – The Snow Woman

Yuki Onba and Yukinko – The Snow Mother and Snow Child

Yuki Warashi / Yukinbo – The Snow Babies

Yukinba / Oyukifuriba – The Snow Hags

Tsurara Onna – The Icicle Woman

Oshiroi Baba – The White Face Powder Hag

Yuki Onna – The Snow Woman

Mizuki_Shigeru_Yuki_Onna

Translated and Sourced from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara, Kaii Yokai Densho Database, Kwaidan, Japanese Wikipedia, and Other Sources

The Yuki Onna is one of Japan’s most well-known and yet unknown yokai. There is no single story of the Yuki Onna. From dread snow vampire of the mountains to a loving bride and mother, she has played many roles over the centuries; worn many costumes. She is ephemeral as a windblown mist of snow, and as impossible to hold.

What Does Yuki Onna Mean?

The only easy thing about the Yuki Onna is her name. It is as straight-forward as her icy companion, the Tsurara Onna – The Icicle Woman. Yuki Onna uses the kanji 雪 (yuki; snow) + 女 (onna; woman) to mean Snow Woman.

OK, I lied. Her name isn’t easy. Yuki Onna is only one of her names. Anywhere there is ice and snow in Japan you will find legends of the Yuki Onna, often called by some regional variation.

Here are a few of her many names:

  • 雪乳母 – Yuki Onba – Snow Nursing Mother
  • 雪娘 – Yuki Musume – Snow Daughter
  • 雪女子 – Yuki Onago – Snow Young Woman
  • 雪女郎 – Yuki Joro – Snow Hooker
  • 雪姉 – Yuki Anesa – Snow Older Sister
  • 雪女房 – Yuki Nyobo – Snow Wife

Basically, any variation of “Snow” + “Name used for a Woman” can be found in use somewhere. Some of these different names have different stories and characteristics, and it is often difficult to tell what is a unique yokai (Like the Yuki Onba and Yukinko) and what is just a variation of the Yuki Onna. Almost all tales of female snow monsters are also told as Yuki Onna stories.

What Do Yuki Onna Look Like?

Suuhi_Yuki-onna

Whatever you call her, the Yuki Onna changes little in appearance. She resembles a classic yurei, with snow-white skin and a white kimono. The kimono is usually described as a thin, summer kimono that is far too light for the cold weather. In many stories, the kimono is pale enough to be translucent, with the garment exposing her white skin underneath.

The biggest variations in her appearance are her age and her hair. In most tales, the Yuki Onna is a preternaturally beautiful young woman, with dark black hair offsetting the whiteness of her skin and kimono. However in her first known appearance—in Sogi Shokoku Monogatari (宗祇諸国物語; Sogi’s Tales of Many Lands)—she is described as having white hair that matches the rest of her bone white appearance.

Other stories of the Yuki Onna further confuse her with yurei. She is said to leave no footprints when she treads on the snow, and this can lead to stories of a footless Yuki Onna, mimicking the footless yurei.

When and Where Do Yuki Onna Appear?

SekienYukionna

Not surprisingly, most Yuki Onna tales come from Tohoku, and Japan’s frozen north. They hail mostly from Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, and Yamagata, as well as Nagano and Nigata. However, they are not restricted to those areas. Yuki Onna appear as far south as Ehime, Tottori, Fukui, Gifu, Nara, and Toyama prefectures. There are few prefectures in Japan without at least one Yuki Onna story—except maybe Okinawa (and, strangely enough, Hokkaido).

As to when they appear—there are different stories.

In Aomori and Iwate prefectures, Yuki Onna appear during Koshogatsu (小正月). Meaning “Little New Years,” Koshogatsu takes place on January 15th and was the traditional end of New Year’s festivities. Nishitsugaru District in Aomori prefecture is even more specific—the Yuki Onna arrives on New Year’s Day and leaves on the 1st of February.

The link between these dates and the Yuki Onna is obscure. Some say that in ancient times the Yuki Onna was worshiped as a Toshigami (歳神), a special deity that appeared on specific days and brought either good or bad fortune for the coming year. The link with February is interesting, corresponding with the Gaelic festival of Imbolc. She may have been Aomori’s Punxsutawney Phil, either ending winter or extending it with her presence. Some think she may have been a servant to the Mountain God (山神), playing the role of Miko or Shrine Maiden and bringing blessings of fertility and a good harvest.

Others say that the Yuki Onna appears only during full moons with new-fallen snow. Mothers in Ehime prefecture are warned not to let their children out to play on such nights. Still others say they arrive and disappear with blizzards. And at least one story says the Yuki Onna appears on the cusp of spring, to bid a temporary farewell to winter.

Yuki Onna from Sogi Shokoku Monogatari – The First Yuki Onna

White Yuki Onna

Although she is thought to be an ancient legend, the first known written account of the Yuki Onna comes from the Muromachi period (1333 – 1573). The monk Sogi wrote of his travels in Echigo province (modern day Nigata prefecture) and his encounter with a Yuki Onna.

Sogi writes that he went out of his house one snowy morning and saw a beautiful and unusual woman standing in his frozen garden. She was huge; almost 10 feet tall, with skin whiter than any human being. Although her face was young and beautiful, her hair was stark white and hung loosely about her shoulders. Her kimono was white to the point of being translucent, and was made of some magical gossamer fabric that clung to the woman’s body.

Sogi attempted to speak to her, but she vanished into the snow. Discussing the vision later with a friend native to the region, Sogi was told that she was the Spirit of Snow (雪の精霊; yuki no seirei) who normally appeared during heavy snowfall. It was rare for her to appear at the cusp of spring.

Other Yuki Onna Tales

There are more stories and variations of the Yuki Onna than it would be possible to tell—you could easily fill a book with them. Many are so different from each other it seems they are talking about completely different yokai. Some are different yokai. Tales of the Yuki Nyobo – The Snow Wife are identical to the Tsurara Onna – The Icicle Woman. The Yuki Onba and her child the Yukinko are different enough that I split them into their own entry. And there are more—thousands more.

Here are a few:

Yuki Onna – The Water Beggar

Yuki Joryo

From Tottori prefecture:

The Yuki Onna travels on the wind, and appears on days with a light snowfall. She walks through the town swinging a white Gohei wand, and shouting “Please give me water—hot or cold!” to anyone she meets. If you give the Yuki Onna cold water, she swells in size. If you give her hot water, she melts and disappears.

Yuki Onna – The Moon Princess

Yuki Onna Small

From Yamagata prefecture:

The Yuki Onna was once a princess of the lunar world, and lived on the Moon. Her life was full of luxury and indulgence—and extremely boring. She became fascinated looking at the world below, and so she snuck out one night and fell down to Earth, traveling on the snow. However, coming down was easier than going back up, and she became stuck on the Earth. On snowy nights of the full moon, she appears, pining for her old home.

Yuki Onna – The Snow Vampire

Yuki Onna Tall

From Aomori, Nigata, and Miyagi prefectures:

The Yuki Onna is a terrible yokai, that haunts the snowy forests looking to feed. She lives by sucking seiki (精気), the vital energy of the human body. She extracts the seiki by first freezing her victims to death, then sucking their souls out through their mouths. This type of Yuki Onna is particularly nasty in Nigata, where it is said she particularly prefers the seiki of children.

Yuki Onna – The Talking Snow Woman

From Ibaraki, Fukushima, Akita, and Fukui prefectures:

This Yuki Onna has a peculiar trait—she needs to engage her victims in conversation in order to attack. When she meets someone on a dark and snowy night, she will call out to them. If the person answers her greeting, she attacks.

Unless you are from Fukushima or Ibaraki prefecture; in those case the Yuki Onna only attacks those who ignore her. And her method of killing is specific. Anyone who ignores her she grabs and throws into a nearby ravine. (A similar yokai in Fukui is called the Koshimusume (越娘), the Cross-Over Daughter.)

The Five Battledores of the Yuki Onna – A Tale of Ghostly Revenge

Bunraku Yuki OnnaPicture found here.

Some accounts say that the Yuki Onna is not a Spirit of Snow, but the ghost of a woman seeking revenge. This mainly comes from Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s bunraku puppet play Yuki Onna Gomai Hakoita (雪女五枚羽子板; The Five Battledores of the Yuki Onna). In Chikamatsu’s play, the Yuki Onna is the ghost of a woman who was deceived, lead into the forest, and murdered. She manifests as the Yuki Onna in order to get her revenge.

Variations of this theme—combining the bewitching beauty of the Yuki Onna with slaughter and revenge—can be found throughout Yuki Onna county, and have been confirmed in Aomori, Yamagata, Akita, Iwate, Fukushima, Nigata, Nagano, Wakayama, and Ehima prefectures.

Lafcadio Hearn’s Yuki Onna (1905)

Kwaidanposterjapanese

But the version of the Yuki Onna that most people know—either in Japan or elsewhere—comes from Lafcadio Hearn’s book Kwaidan. His kindler, gentler—and more romantic—Yuki Onna has become the template for Yuki Onna and superseded all others. Odds are in modern times if someone speaks of the Yuki Onna 99% of the time it will be Hearn’s version.

****

Two woodcutters—a father and son—were trapped in the forest when a sudden blizzard arose. They took shelter in an abandoned cabin, huddling in their clothes to sleep next to a meager fire. In the middle of the night, the son awoke when the door banged open and an ethereally beautiful woman came in from the blizzard. The woman crept over the father and blew her breath on him, then sucked up his living essence. As she turned to do the same to the son, she paused. Captivated by his youth and beauty, the Yuki Onna said she would let him live, but only on the condition that he never speak of this night.

The following winter, the young man was standing in his doorway when a beautiful woman traveler came walking by. The man offered her refuge from the elements, and the woman accepted. They quickly fell in love, and the woman never made it to her destination. She stayed on, married the young man, and they lived happily for years. They even had several children.

One night, when the kids where happily playing, the man looked up at his wife and a memory surfaced that he hadn’t thought about in years. When his wife asked him what was the matter, he told her of his encounter with the snow spirit years ago, wondering if it had all been a dream. The smile fell from his wife’s face, as she revealed herself to be that very same Yuki Onna.

She was livid that her husband had broken her promise, and would have killed him there were it not for the children. As it was she left instantly, leaving the husband behind with regret and sorrow.

****

No one knows exactly where Hearn got this version of the Yuki Onna tale. People have searched for years to find the original, but without success. According the Hearn’s preface, it was taught to him by a local man. Researchers have tracked that down to a potential candidate, a father and daughter who worked as servants in Hearn’s house in Tokyo. The daughters name was Ohana, and the father was Shuya, and they came from the Oume district of Toyko. That area has some similar folktales, which make Ohana and Shuya good candidates.

However, it is almost certain Hearn embellished whatever tale he was told. Hearn almost never faithfully recorded stories, and always worked them into something he thought was better. So there is no way of knowing what portions are original, and what are additions.

It doesn’t really matter though—ever since Hearn published his version, it completely dominated all other versions of the Yuki Onna. No more Moon Princesses or Water Beggars. With Hearn’s story there was a marked shift to a different kind of Yuki Onna story, one that blended romance and loss and melancholy.

Translator’s Note:

Another snow monster for December! This is the big one. I have been wanting to do Yuki Onna for a long time now, but was always intimidated by the sheer amount of information and variations. Even as one of my longest articles I don’t think I did the subject justice. There are many more Yuki Onna stories that can be told; although to be fair, many of them are just variations of existing yokai stories re-cast with the Yuki Onna.

I’m especially fond of the Yuki Onna became my wife’s name is Miyuki, which translates as “Beautiful Snow.” For as long as I have known her I have teased her about being a Yuki Onna in disguise. Which doesn’t really work because she hates the cold and is completely a beach girl, not a snow bunny.

There is at least on attempt to make sense of the ubiquitous nature of the Yuki Onna in Japan. Some researchers have said that the Yuki Onna may have actually existed in the form of mental illness. The intense cold of winter combined with suffocating fever could lead people to stumble outside dressed in only light summer kimonos. People who stumbled upon their hapless wanderers invented stories, and over time these stories became legends.

Further Reading:

For more winter yokai stories, check out:

Tsurara Onna –The Icicle Woman

Yuki Onba and Yukinko – The Snow Mother and Snow Child

Yuki Warashi / Yukinbo – The Snow Babies

Yukinba / Yukifuriba – The Snow Hags

Oshiroi Baba – The White Face Powder Hag

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No part of this web site may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of Zack Davisson.

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