Yuki Onna: The Snow Woman

Yuki-onna(雪女) from the Gazu Hyakki Yakō

Image via Wikipedia

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.

Sources

Kwaidan: Stories And Studies Of Strange Things
Kwaidan: Stories And Studies Of Strange Things
(Paperback)
by Lafcadio Hearn
Richard Gordon Smith, Ancient Tales and Folk-lore of Japan, 1918
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuki-onna
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Kubikajiri: Headless Japanese Ghostie

Hey, sorry for neglecting you guys last week. I was in Amsterdam with Jolaine Incognito, who you might remember from Demon Hunting and Mummy Month fame. Internet was spotty at best, and there were beers to be drunk.

More about the trip later, since I’m so jetlagged right now you’re lucky you’re getting a demon, but let’s just say I brought home a couple of deities you’ll be interested in meeting…

*******

A graveyard in Tokyo. The boards behind the gr...

Image via Wikipedia

Let’s say you happen to be walking in a Japanese graveyard late at night, and you smell fresh blood. No, someone didn’t leave their coffin open. You’ve just got your early warning of danger from the Kubikajiri, a Japanese ghost, or yurei (which means ‘faint soul’).

The Kubikajiri is a spirit who lost its head sometime in life (I’m guessing right about the end part), and wanders graveyards looking for a replacement among the living and the dead. None of the heads will do, unfortunately. So it eats them instead. I am not sure how this is accomplished, since it wouldn’t have a mouth.

I suspect the supernatural is involved.

Sources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yurei

The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters
The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters

by Rosemary Ellen Guiley

Hannya: Horned mask demon

Japanese demon mask small

Image via Wikipedia

This post is part of Bad Girls month!

Okay, so now I’m reduced to citing tattoo websites for demon stories…

But I love all things Japanese (except maybe the Samisen music, and even then, well, there’s the Yoshida Brothers, isn’t there? ), and when I hear about a Japanese demon, I want her on my blog.

In Noh theatre, there’s a mask called the ‘hannya,’ with horns and fangs, its face in a grimace. When I found that this mask is based on a demon, and on a female one at that, I had to know more.

Guiley says that the hannya was a demon-possessed woman with cannibalistic tendancies.

I looked for more on the Interweb, but only found a references to the mask, except for a couple of tattoo websites. The best one told the story of Kiyo Hime — Hime is an honorific that means ‘princess’.

The princess fell in love with a travelling monk, who returned her love, but he refused to relinquish his vows. She became enraged, and these feelings turned her into a demon with a twisted, horned and fanged face and a snake’s body.

The monk hid under a large iron bell, but the hannya found him, and breathed fire onto the bell. It melted and the molten metal burned him to death.

Okay, I have to go listen to some more Yoshida Brothers now.

Sources

The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters
The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters

by Rosemary Ellen Guiley
http://tattoojoy.com/tattoo_articles/the_meaning_of_japanese_tattoos.htm#kiyo_hime

Kitsune: Hey foxy lady

The kitsune Kuzunoha. Note the shadow of a fox...

Image via Wikipedia

The beautiful fox-shifter maiden of Japanese lore is the ‘kitsune.’ Legend has it in Japan that female foxes can turn into lovely women of particular grace. Sometimes you see a male kitsune. Not often.

Also, the fox-spirit’s tail shoots fire. How cool? Very cool.

To turn into a human, the fox has to put a human skull on her head, turn around and bow to the Big Dipper (or whatever they call it in Japan). If she does it without the skull falling off, presto-change-o.

Fox maidens don’t have a clear modus operandi. Sometimes, they punish bad people, sometimes they do mischievous tricks, sometimes they attract and captivate men sexually, in a kind of energy vampirism. And sometimes they fall in love and marry a human man, regretfully leaving him when their true nature is revealed. Their human offspring are supposed to have long lives, intelligence, and magic.

Kitsune are associated with Inari, the Japanese fox god of rice.

Hey, you know back when I said kappa are possibly the only demons with sushi named after them? Kitsune don’t have sushi, but their patron god, Inari, has inari sushi, rice in a sweet package of deep fried tofu (Kappa maki is better, trust me). But kitsune have kitsune udon and kitsune soba, noodles topped with deep fried tofu, which they are supposed to really love.

You can get possessed by kitsune, but only if you’re a girl. The kitsune enters your body through the breast or my sneaking under your fingernails. Symptoms of fox possession, or ‘kitsune-tsuki’ include hearing a fox spirit speaking inside your head and getting a craving for red beans and rice (not the southern U.S. dish, just the beans. Also the rice).

Sources

The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters
The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters

by Rosemary Ellen Guiley
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitsune

Ikiriyo: Wandering spirits (of the living!)

Murasaki Shikibu

Image via Wikipedia

I’m featuring a Japanese spirit today, in the hopes of bringing attention to the plight of thousands of people left homeless in Northern Japan by the quake and the tsunami that followed. If you also think that things from Japan are cool, please donate to your local Red Cross to help those living without access to adequate shelter, enough food, and clean water. Thank you.

The American Red Cross
The Canadian Red Cross
Red Cross UK

Okay, not a demon at all, but VERY COOL…

Wandering spirits aren’t uncommon in folklore (and in this blog). The difference with the ikiryo is a) Japanese (automatic cool), and b) the person who owns the spirit is still alive.

Anyone can develop an ikiriyo — just get so pissed off, vengeful, or jealous that the feeling develops a power of its own and leaves your body. The ikiriyo then attacks the person you’re ticked at by entering their body.

There’s a famous incidence of this in The Tale of Genji, one of the first novels (that we know about), attributed Murasaki Shikibu, a Japanese noblewoman in the early 11th century. Lady Rokujo’s vengeful and jealous ikiriyo attacks and kills her rival, Lady Aoi.

Again, here are those links:

The American Red Cross
The Canadian Red Cross
Red Cross UK

Sources

The Tale of Genji, Murasaki Shikibu
The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters
The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters

by Rosemary Ellen Guiley
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ikiryo
Gabriel, J. Philip, Spirit Matters

Seriously fishy characters 5: Kappa

Yay! A Japanese demon!

Kappas are demons that inhabit swamps, marshes, rivers, any fresh body of water, really. They look kinda scaly, might have a turtle shell, and are about the size of a ten year old kid. Some of them have bird beaks or duck bills.

Their skulls are concave on top, and the depression is full of water. This lets them move around on land without drying out. So, if you want to hurt a kappa you see on land, bow politely. The kappa’s innate sense of propriety will force it to return the bow and the water will dump out. It’s not clear if this kills a kappa, but it definitely slows it down.

Apparently there’s another way to get rid of them. Or anyone. See photo.

Try the bowing thing.

Try the bowing thing.

The word ‘kappa’ means ‘river child’ and it is possibly the only demon with a sushi roll named after it.

That’s because kappas have two favorite foods: small, fat, luscious children, and cucumbers. Luckily, the kappamaki sushi roll goes for the last one, not the first.

In fact, kappas will do just about anything for a cucumber. They’re not bad folks, really, despite luring (mostly) kids and (sometimes) adults into water where they drown. And despite the fact they then enter that person’s body through their bum, suck out their guts and eat their liver.

Really, they just want to get along. And eat cucumbers if they can’t chow down on a kid.

In fact, kappas can be very helpful to humans. First you’ve got to make friends with them (a cucumber comes in handy here) and get them to agree to do stuff. One of their more sterling traits–besides the bowing thing–is that they always keep their promises, scout’s honor. None of this ‘looking for loopholes’ that’s so common in dealing with demons.

Once you’re friendly with a kappa, it will do all kinds of things for you (probably for cucumbers), like irrigate your crops and teach you how to set broken bones.
Kappamaki

Kappamaki

P.S.: “Kappa” is also the Japanese term for rain gear.

Sources

A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels and Other Subversive Spirits
A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels and Other Subversive Spirits

by Carol K. Mack, Dinah Mack

Adventures in Demon Hunting 9, or An Account of Creatures Strange and Wondrous: Kirin

More strange and mystical creatures encountered by intrepid Demon Hunters Teresa and Jolaine on what became known to history as The Great Demon Hunting Expedition of 2009: Kirin

Since we were in Japan in the last blog post, we might as well stay there…

Honestly, can you get cooler than Japanese unicorns? No, no you can’t.

Unless, of course, that Japanese unicorn happens to also have a beer named after it.

The Kirin is the most powerful creature in the Japanese hierarchy of mythological animals. As you can tell from the picture, Kirin resemble dragons shaped like horses, with the tail of a lion (So it’s not really that much like a unicorn). They are symbols of good fortune, rewarding good people and punishing evil with their single horn.

Sources