More or less everything I create is centered around my sacred North. So it felt most strange today to be portraying Yuki Onna, a Japanese spirit of the snow. Strange, but ever so special. My knowledge of Japanese folklore is poor at the best of times, so it was thrilling to dig around a little and get a grasp on this intriguing ghost.
While she’s predominantly known as Yuki Onna (Snow Woman), she also has several other titles including Yuki Onago (Snow Girl), Yuki Hoe (Snow Daughter) and my personal favourite, Yukinba (Snow Hag).
It’s not known exactly how old the legend of Yuki Onna is. Though I did read that she was quite the established Yokai (ghost) by the 14th Century, when she was written about by the poet Sogi who claimed to have had an encounter.
With her white kimono and pale, almost translucent skin, Yuki Onna would blend into the snowy landscapes were it not for her billowing black hair. (Though sometimes she is said to appear naked.) She makes herself known on wintry nights and floats across the snow. Some sources say that Yuki Onna has no feet (a common feature of Japanese ghosts) and she is capable of transforming in a cloud of mist or snow if she feels threatened.
In several stories, Yuki Onna appears to a wandering traveller, and uses her icy breath to freeze them to death. Other tales say that she leads travellers astray so they die of exposure. In some instances she invades homes, blowing in the doorways and killing the inhabitants as they sleep.
One of the most intriguing anecdotes that I read was that she can make the illusion that there’s a child lost in the snow…then, when a well meaning traveller finds the child and hugs it, Yuki Onna will appear and freeze the person in place. In parts of Japan, children were not allowed to go outside when it started to snow. It’s said that, when a snow storm rages, the cries and laments of Yuki Onna’s victims can be heard carried on the wind.