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Culture

A Survival Guide to Japan’s Winter Monsters

Guaranteed to chill your blood more than the cold weather, let’s look at Japan’s wicked side of winter.

By 5 min read

As the nights draw in and winter approaches, Japanese people, like folks everywhere, prepare for the cold weather. These days the chilly season is a time for relaxing at home, eating sweet potatoes and sticking your feet in front of the heater, but before the days of electricity, winter was a time for caution and fear.

With so many dangers caused by the cold weather, it is not surprising that there are countless stories about yokai (Japanese ghosts) and monsters, from ice maidens to ice vampires lurking out in the snow.

To protect yourselves from the twisted creatures this winter season, Gaijinpot presents a survival guide to the wicked side of Japanese winter.

The winter succubi

Yuki-onna by Sawaki-Suushi.

It is hard to get out and meet people in the winter, but even so, it is worth exercising caution if you suddenly meet a seemingly perfect woman in the middle of a snow blizzard. Unfortunately, many men have been led to ruin by the siren-like seduction of yuki-onna (snow woman).

Mostly because of the lack of survivors, there are countless legends about these spirits, but the most common theme is that looking at the yuki-onna’s face and attempting to speak to her causes her to devour you. Unless, of course, you believe another myth that ignoring her is what makes her strike.

Different areas tell different tales, with her becoming more dangerous the further north you travel—but not always. Sometimes, yuki-onna aren’t interested in a meal but in meeting “Mr. Right.” The snowy succubus has been known to try and seduce men away from their wives. The yuki-onna, like many yokai, is notoriously unpredictable. There are as many legends of her freezing her paramour to death with an icy kiss as there are of her falling in love with them.

Like snow, most of these creatures can be thwarted by hot things…

A similar legend tells of a man who looked at an icicle and was so bewitched by its beauty that he said that he wanted a wife just as perfect. Suddenly, a mysterious woman appeared moments later. He should have guessed that she wasn’t human, but rather a yokai called a tsurara-onna (icicle woman).

After a wintery wedding, the mysterious woman disappeared in spring, so the man decided to marry a different woman in the summer. But, unfortunately, the tsurara-onna reappeared when the weather got cold again, and far from a tearful reunion, the man met his end with the perfect icicle stabbed into his neck.

Stranger danger

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Uh, I’m not really ready to commit right now…

Japanese winter legends often warn of doing favors for strangers in the cold. In such myths, strangers are usually malevolent, so be careful if you hear a voice beckoning you off into the snow. For example, imagine that you are out in a chilling snowstorm when you suddenly see a beautiful woman clutching a freezing baby to her chest. “Hug the baby,” the woman urges, “keep him warm.”

As you hold the child in your arms, you’ll get colder, as if life was draining out of you. Only when it’s too late do you realize you’ve encountered the yuki-onba (snowy nursing mother) and her icy babe.

A similar story is the voice of an old lady calling to travelers at night and begging for help. Of course, who wouldn’t want to help a sweet old lady? However, the would-be heroes are met by a fanged monstrosity called a yukinba (snow hag). Luckily, the hag hops on one leg, so she is pretty easy to outrun.

Watch for the signs

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Another reason to stay inside this winter.

Other stories warn that the common signs of hypothermia are something more sinister. If you’ve ever been out in the snow and felt strangely out of energy, you may want to watch out as lurking in the snow are snow vampires that want to freeze their victims to death and then drain them of their energy.

Likewise, make sure you know the surrounding area well, as many creatures enjoy leading naive travelers astray. For example, both the yuki-onna and her male counterpart yuki-jiji (snow old guy) are fond of leading gullible travelers off cliffs or down ravines.

Catch them at their own game

Nagano’s snow monkeys know what’s up.

One of the most interesting things about all the yokai is that they often have weaknesses caused by their very natures. Canny travelers can use these to outwit these creatures and survive their encounters.

If a mysterious beauty comes up to you and you suspect that she may be a yuki-onna, one common feature of many yokai is that they don’t have feet as we know them. However, if you can look past their looks, many stories describe them as seeming to float above the snow and not even leaving footprints.

Another advantage is that, like snow, most of these creatures can be thwarted by hot things. For example, one winter yokai was thwarted when a kindly villager gave it hot tea. The creature slugged back the piping hot beverage without thinking, and it was too badly melted to attack.

How to stay safe

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Give her a few more days just to be safe.

While these ghosts are terrifying, they also teach important lessons such as staying safe this winter. First, make sure you know where you’re going. Watch out for strange people (even seemingly innocent ones). Stay vigilant, keep track of how tired you feel and always carry a hot drink with you are all important messages.

However, the key is to stay safe this winter season, stay warm and be wary of mysterious voices calling you into the snow.

What’s your favorite winter yokai? Think you could survive a chilly encounter with a yuki-onna? Let us know in the comments!

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