Somewhere in Aomori, a traveler makes his way up a steep snowbank, the wind pushing against his back with icy fingers. It is so cold the grip is gone from his hands, and his knees can barely bend for the chill. He needs shelter and he needs it soon. In the distance, a silhouette forms amidst the gusts of sleet––a woman in a white kimono, her long hair whipping about in gale. As she draws closer, the traveler is taken aback, half retreating and nearly stumbling backward into the piles of ice and snow around him. Her lips are as blue as a corpse, and rather than walk over the surface of the woodland, she glides without feet, carried by the abominable wind towards him. Before he can scream she is upon him, the deity of the snowstorm, and with one exhale from her icy lips, he falls, frozen to death.
Elsewhere, in the old northern province once named Echigo, a man is settling in for an unpleasant winter night. A storm howls outside, but he is warm and comfortable near his fire. Late in the evening, a rapping begins at his door, and soon, a girl’s voice follows it. “Let me in!” she pleads, over and over but to no avail. The man, knowing of no nearby families, has too much superstition in his veins to open the door. When he at last yells at the specter outside to be gone, he turns to go back to bed, only to find an ephemeral beauty, dressed head to toe in white, standing beside his futons. She asks for nothing but shelter. She doesn’t kill him.
In Yamagata, it is a clear night. A new moon shines brilliantly over the diamond dusted powder of the country’s snowy hills. There is a silent peace to all, a stillness on earth. From the tree line, a woman with porcelain skin emerges, gazing longingly at the gray craters of the world she came from. High up in the sky, in the pockmarked surface, she can see the palaces and countries of her great home. Having descended so many centuries before without a way to return, the Snow Woman can do nothing but pine for the world she has lost.
The stories of Yuki Onna are as numerous as snowflakes in a winter storm. They range from the beautiful and lonely woman of perpetual winter, to the yokai that devours the life-force of men and children who have the misfortune of crossing her path. She is a goddess, a princess, a yurei, a malevolent spirit… a woman who had the misfortune to die in a storm like the one she inhabits. In one tale, she even functions as a sort of groundhog spirit, letting the citizenry know whether winter will stay long or leave early in any particular year.
Her appearance, as well, depends on who you talk to. Tales in Japan range from the woman being nude to robed in white, with black hair, white hair, blue lips, no feet, or even having her body be translucent. One thing is true of each story, though: there is a certain melancholy that surrounds the beauty of a woman in the dead of winter––a woman frozen, a Snow White to never be rescued from the poison apple.
Or maybe she’s just trying to kill a cockroach, as in this commercial out of Japan: