the online database of Japanese folkore

Yuki onna


Translation: snow woman
Habitat: mountain passes; anywhere there is snow
Diet: life energy; can also eat ordinary food

Appearance: Yuki onna prey on travelers lost in the heavy snowstorms that blanket the Japanese Alps in winter. They have an otherworldly beauty, with long black hair and dark, piercing eyes. Their skin is ageless and as white as snow, but their bodies are as cold as ice. A mere touch is enough to give a human a deep, unshakable chill. They feed on life force, sucking it from human’s mouths with an icy breath that freezes their victims solid.

Interactions: Yuki onna spend their lives hunting humans in the snow. They stay near mountain roads and prey on the travelers coming and going, or break into homes and flash-freeze the inhabitants during the night. While they are killers, Yuki onna are not entirely cold blooded. Legends say they can fall in love with their intended prey and let them go free. Some go so far as to marry humans and live happily together. As supernatural spirits never age, however, their husbands inevitably discover their true identities. This revelation usually ends these happy marriages.

Legends: In Niigata Prefecture, an elderly man operated an inn on a mountain trail with his wife. One snowy night, the inn was visited by a young lady traveling alone. She warmed herself by the fire and ate with the innkeeper and his wife. She was sweet and charming and extremely beautiful. So it was even more of a surprise when, in the middle of the night during a fierce blizzard, she stood up and made to leave the inn. The innkeeper begged her not to go outside, and took her hand to hold her back. It was as cold as ice. Merely touching it sucked all the warmth from the innkeeper’s body. As he tried to keep the girl in the house, her entire body turned into a fine icy mist, and shot up the chimney and out into the night.

A man from Yamagata Prefecture claimed that he had been married to a yuki onna. His wife was beautiful, with piercing eyes and skin as white as a marble statue. While he loved to take long hot baths every night, his wife always refused to bathe. This puzzled him greatly. One particularly cold and snowy night, he insisted that his wife take a bath. Otherwise she would freeze to death in the cold, he said. She protested, but there was no reasoning with the man. Finally she acquiesced. When he went in to check on her a few minutes later, all he found in the tub were half-melted icicles.

Alphabetical list of yōkai