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Who is Yuki-Onna?

Niki Acker
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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Yuki-onna is a legendary Japanese spirit or yokai. In the Western world, she is best known from Lafcadio Hearn's version of the story in his book Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (1903). A 1965 film based on Hearn's stories, also titled Kwaidan, features the Yuki-onna.

Yuki-onna, whose name means "snow woman," can be considered a personification of the winter. She always appears in snow, and her skin is pure white. She is very tall and either nude or dressed entirely in white, sometimes with blood staining her clothing or feet. Like a winter storm, she is both serenely beautiful and a merciless killer. She freezes her victims with a touch or with her breath.

Sometimes, Yuki-onna kills only those who wander into a snowstorm, and other times she is quite aggressive, blowing down the doors of her victims' homes. Some tales tell of Yuki-onna carrying a child to attract victims, who are frozen to death when they attempt to rescue it. In such stories, she is often said to be the ghost of a pregnant woman who died in the snow. Some parents use Yuki-onna as a boogeyman figure, to threaten their children into behaving. In other stories, Yuki-onna is similar to the Western idea of a succubus, a female demon who seduces men and drains them of life energy through sex or a kiss.

In the legend recounted by Lafcadio Hearn, a woodcutter and his apprentice encounter Yuki-onna in a blizzard. She takes pity on the boy and allows him to live, but makes him promise that he will never tell anyone about her. Later, when the boy is grown, he meets and falls in love with a beautiful, pale girl named O-Yuki, or "Snow." They marry and have ten children, and one day the man tells his wife of his encounter with Yuki-onna. Of course, O-Yuki is Yuki-onna, and she is furious with her husband for having broken his promise. She spares him again for the sake of the children, but leaves forever, assuring him that he will not be so lucky if he dares reveal the secret again.

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Niki Acker
By Niki Acker , Writer
"In addition to her role as a CulturalWorld.org editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "

Discussion Comments

By anon1005246 — On Jul 18, 2021

There are more similarities with the Mermaid than with the Succubus, because using the Yuki-Onna as a boogie man is wishful thinking -- you need to be in a cold desolate place, not inside a dwelling which is located in the city. At the least, if you there to be in a cabin at the edge of civilization, it would be again possible, or on guard duty on the outer wall of your kingdom.

It's just another western abuse of foreign mythology we don't understand, mixed with the fearful overthinking of a kid, abused by parents. I still remember my nightmares, because of the boogie man stories. What wicked fairy-tale -- just as the Series Legion -- you tell your child, such demons, shall he see in his nightmares.

Niki Acker

Niki Acker

Writer

"In addition to her role as a CulturalWorld.org editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide...
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