Yuki-onna (or The Snow Woman) is a classic ghost story legend from Japan about a young man who encounters a mysterious woman in the snow. She turns out to be an evil spirit who agrees to spare his life under one condition. It is also known as “The Snow Ghost” or The Snow Witch.
In a small town in Japan, there lived two hunters named Mosaku and Minokichi. Mosaku was an old man and Minokichi, his son, was sixteen years old. Every day, they went out together into the forest and hunted rabbits and other animals which they would bring home and cook for dinner.
One cold evening in Winter, Mosaku and Minokichi were on their way home when they got caught in a blinding snowstorm. They couldn’t find their way out of the forest and became very worried that they would freeze to death. Luckily, they came across an abandoned cabin in the wilderness where they could take shelter for the night and wait for the snowstorm to pass.
It was a tiny hut and there was no fireplace or any way to make a fire. Mosaku and Minokichi fastened the door, and lay down to rest, shivering with their coats pulled tightly around them. They hoped that the storm would soon be over.
The father immediately fell into a deep sleep but the boy, Minokichi, lay awake a long time, listening to the wind whistling through the loose boards of the old cabin and the snow beating against the door. The ramshackle hut swayed and creaked in the storm and Minokichi shivered under his coat until, at last, in spite of the cold, he managed to fall asleep.
He was awakened by the feeling of snow falling on his face. When he opened his eyes, he could see that the door of the hut had been forced open. He saw a strange figure standing in the moonlight. It was a woman, dressed all in white. She was bending over his father and breathing on him. Her breath was like a bright white smoke. Suddenly, she turned to Minokichi, and stooped over him. He tried to cry out, but found that he could not utter any sound. The white woman bent down over him, lower and lower, until her face almost touched his own.
She was very beautiful, but her eyes were glowing yellow. He was terrified and she continued to stare at him as she whispered “I am the Snow Witch. I was going to kill you, but you’re such a pretty boy, I will let you live. But if you ever tell anybody, even your own mother, about what you have seen, I will kill you. Never forget this warning!”
With these words, she turned around and floated through the doorway. The boy jumped up and looked outside, but the snow witch was nowhere to be seen and the snowstorm was still raging, driving snow into the hut. Minokichi closed the door, and wedged a log against it to keep it closed. He began to wonder if he had jest been dreaming. Perhaps the snow witch was a figment of his imagination.
He called out to his father, but the old man did not answer. The boy put out his hand in the dark, and touched his father’s face. It was completely frozen. His father was dead.
By dawn, the snowstorm was over and Minokichi had to drag the frozen corpse of his father back into town. He was devastated by the death of his beloved Dad and remained ill from the effects of the cold for a long time. He had been so frightened by the snow witch that he didn’t tell anyone about her. The police assumed his father had frozen to death in the forest and never asked any questions. He said nothing about the vision of the woman in white to his mother either, fearing that the ghost would return and kill him as well.
As soon as he was well again, he returned to hunting in the forest every day. He had to put food on the table somehow. At nightfall, he would come back with dead rabbits, which his mother helped him to cook.
One year later, in the middle of winter, he was on his way home, when he met a girl who happened to be traveling on the same road. She was tall, thin and very good-looking. As they walked down the road together, they began to talk. The girl said that her name was O-Yuki and she had recently lost both of her parents. She was on her way to her uncle’s house, where she hoped to live for a while until she could find a job. Minokichi was very attracted to this strange girl and the more he looked at her, the more beautiful she appeared to be.
They dated for a few weeks and gradually fell in love. Then Minokichi asked O-Yuki to come to his house for dinner so she could meet his mother. After some hesitation, she went there with him and his mother found the girl very pleasant and friendly. Eventually, the young couple got married and O-Yuki came to live in Minokichi’s house permanently.
When Minokichi’s mother died, a year later, her last words were words of affection and praise for the wife of her son. And O-Yuki bore Minokichi ten children, boys and girls,– handsome children all of them, and very fair of skin.
The country-folk thought O-Yuki a wonderful person, by nature different from themselves. Most of the peasant-women age early; but O-Yuki, even after having become the mother of ten children, looked as young and fresh as on the day when she had first come to the village.
One night, after the children had gone to sleep, O-Yuki was sewing by the light of a paper lamp; and Minokichi, watching her, said:–
“To see you sewing there, with the light on your face, makes me think of a strange thing that happened when I was a lad of eighteen. I then saw somebody as beautiful and white as you are now — indeed, she was very like you.”…
Without lifting her eyes from her work, O-Yuki responded:–
“Tell me about her… Where did you see her?
Then Minokichi told her about the terrible night in the ferryman’s hut,– and about the White Woman that had stooped above him, smiling and whispering,– and about the silent death of old Mosaku. And he said:–
“Asleep or awake, that was the only time that I saw a being as beautiful as you. Of course, she was not a human being; and I was afraid of her,– very much afraid,– but she was so white!… Indeed, I have never been sure whether it was a dream that I saw, or the Woman of the Snow.”…
O-Yuki flung down her sewing, and arose, and bowed above Minokichi where he sat, and shrieked into his face:–
“It was I — I — I! Yuki it was! And I told you then that I would kill you if you ever said one work about it!… But for those children asleep there, I would kill you this moment! And now you had better take very, very good care of them; for if ever they have reason to complain of you, I will treat you as you deserve!”…
Even as she screamed, her voice became thin, like a crying of wind;– then she melted into a bright white mist that spired to the roof-beams, and shuddered away through the smoke-hold… Never again was she seen.