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Who is Yuki-onna?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2014
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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.

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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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