Many stories are told about the beautiful Snow Woman of Japan. You can search Google books’ copy of Kwaidan by Lafcadio Hearn for one of them, and at sacred-texts.com, you can look for Richard Gordon Smith’s “The Snow Ghost” in Chapter XLIX of Ancient Tales and Folk-lore of Japan.
Like the snow she’s named after, the Yuki-Onna is shifting and hard to hold on to. The stories told about her disagree about her nature and origins.
The Yuki-Onna is a lovely lady, willowy and tall, with skin so white it’s nearly translucent (Nowadays we like people to have a healthy tan glow, but once upon a time, white skin was the height of fashion–it meant that a lady was rich enough she didn’t have to work outside.). In some stories she wears a white kimono. She appears mysteriously, either blowing into a house she’s been invited into, or just manifesting out of a whirl of snow in a storm. She moves with such lightness and grace that she doesn’t leave footprints in the snow.
Some say parents looking for a lost child in a snowstorm will encounter this beautiful lady holding a baby. When they agree to hold the child for her, they are frozen in place forever.
Some say that a host who takes pity on a lovely traveler in a storm might be rewarded by this spirit freezing them to death in their own beds.
Some say the Yuki-Onna sucks the life-force of her victims before they die. But others say that the Yuki-Onna takes pity on some of her would-be victims if they are young and beautiful. In the Lafcadio Hearn story, this leads to interesting consequences.
No one really knows whether the Yuki-Onna was once human. Some tales tell us that her life as a woman ended tragically in a snowstorm, but in others, she is simply the spirit of the snow.
Kwaidan: Stories And Studies Of Strange Things (Paperback)
by Lafcadio Hearn
|Richard Gordon Smith, Ancient Tales and Folk-lore of Japan, 1918|