May 18, 2019
Monsters are without a doubt a creation of humans, more specifically monsters such as Frankenstein’s monster which was created in part as a response to the terrifying advances science was making at the time which caused people to fear the boundaries of science to be pushed to an extreme which would have unknown catastrophic consequences. Other monsters are more cultural such as the wendigo, which teaches tribal members and anyone who hears the legend that resorting to cannibalism is an absolute taboo which would ultimately lead to one’s demise and morph them into a deadly creature that is no longer human who now must consume the flesh of the people that they once lived amongst. More interestingly is the Japanese monster known as the Yuki Onna which translates to snow woman. She has undergone a drastic change over the span of her beginnings to what she is known for today and has played a huge role on the culture of northern Japan. Recently, she has inspired countless films adding to the interest in horror films and games for Japan. In addition to this, because she has been incorporated into games, she has been able to venture outside of her home of Northern Japan and into the hearts and minds of people all around the globe. Before we can see the effects she has had on japanese culture, media, and the people of other countries, we must first discuss why she even exists.
In early japanese history two major groups of people inhabited the island, these people are the Jomon and the Yayoi. The Yayoi people play a crucial role in the development of the Yuki Onna due to their religious and spiritual beliefs. The Yayoi believed that everything had a spirit living inside of it, lake spirits, fire spirits, spirits of natural disaster, and spirits of creation, these are only a few of the many spirits they believed to exist in the world. Eventually these two groups intermingled and the people of Japan arose. As time continued their beliefs changed as well, they adopted a new religion called shinto which like animism, believed that spirits inhabited much of the world and they needed to dedicate shrines and temples to these spirits as well as steer clear of other evil spirits. This leads to the creation of the Yuki Onna, as much of what happened in the world was explained by simply it’s because of the spirits, it was only natural that a phenomena such as snowfall would also have a spirit associated with it. According to Haslem, an active researcher and blogger about japanese monsters, the origins of the Yuki Onna start somewhere before the 13th century however, during the 13th century a monk was staring into the snow when a woman appeared to him out of nowhere, this led him to attempt to speak to the woman but as he approached her, she vanished. Surprised by what he witnessed, he went to a friend to recall the events of this strange encounter to which his friend replied that what he had just witnessed was the Yuki Onna, a spirit who appears during the beginnings and peak of winter and the fact that he saw her at such a late moment of winter (closing in on spring) was an encounter which practically never happens thus, he was lucky to have witnessed her grace at such a late point in time. In this version, not only was her hair a silverish white color rather than the black color as we know now but, she also was kind and gentle. She has always been described as a beautiful woman which makes sense because she is associated with white snow which is seen as an aesthetically pleasing sight. Due to the usual gracefulness of snow as well as its typical gentle nature, it is logical to have the Yuki Onna appear as a kind woman. It is therefore very clear as to how animism and later the shinto religion caused the legend of the Yuki Onna to begin, this however, is only the beginnings of her legend as many centuries later, she will be morphed into a different character which complicates her nature and personality making her into more of a dynamic and loveable character.
Her transformation began when an Irish/Greek man moved to Japan and married a woman there, he then became fascinated by the legends and wrote stories about them, one of his most famous being the love story of the Yuki Onna where in Hearn’s version (the Irish/Greek man) he starts his tale off with two men who go out into the snow and then seek shelter as the snowfall gets heavier. They take refuge in an abandoned inn and the Yuki Onna appears at night and kills one of the men by sucking his life out of him, she then goes for the other but ends up sparing his life because she finds him attractive. She makes him vow to never speak of this night, it is only with this condition that she lets him live, he obliges and she disappears. About a year later the man finds a woman whom he loves and eventually marries her, they have several children and one night as the man and his wife lay in bed by the fire, he looks at her and is reminded of the night in which he met the Yuki Onna. The man begins to tell his wife about that night and she patiently listens and waits for his story to finish, she then lashes out in anger and screams to him that he broke the promise. She said had it not been for their children she would have killed him then and there but she simply vanishes into the snow never to be seen again (Haslem par 6-7). This changes the dynamic of the Yuki Onna considerably from where her legend began yet, oddly enough, this change is what becomes more popular not only across the world but in Japan itself. What makes this version of the Yuki Onna more appealing and memorable than her previous version? The answer lies in her ability to venture out more into the unknown, cause fear amongst people who know of her legend, and have a new side to her which also ironically makes her more human even though she became more of a monster.
Monsters develop out of our fears, but there are many times that we fear something because we do not have the same capabilities as the things we fear so in reality, we fear what we actually want to have. These fears and desires of their powers effects how we portray the monster and in turn how it is that they affect us as individuals, and as a society. According to Jeffrey Jerome Cohen who is the author of, “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)” and has a PHD on monsters, his sixth monster theory is that, “Our fear of the monster is really a kind of desire.” He argues that monsters are able to practice things we cannot because they are either taboo or simply they have immense amounts of power or other traits that we do not and because we know that we can never become as “talented” as the monsters, we fear them. However, this fear comes out of our jealousy and desire of the things that the monster has the we know we cannot have, most of the time it comes from our want of their freedom from society and rules, the freedom to do whatever they want without consequences because they also carry a power that supersedes humans and thus we cannot bring them to justice for the most part. How does this affect the desires we have towards the Yuki Onna? For starters, the Yuki Onna can be attributed to this theory for a few reasons, one she is immortal and there is no way to kill her which makes her even more frightening as we cannot comprehend what it is like to be immortal but that does not stop humanity from trying (which of course has led to the novel of Frankenstein). The second reason being she is able to kill whomever she pleases with no repercussions, while this is a desire for some people, for the most part it is not the killing of people that stands out to them as a desire but the fact that they could get away with something to this degree and not face any form of punishment (although some wouldn’t mind going to the extremes with this kind of invincibility). Not only is she capable of causing death but, here comes the part in which she becomes even more human although she became more of a monster with the other two points; this being that she is capable of falling in love and marrying the person she fell in love with. In Hearn’s story, the Yuki Onna killed a man and fell in love with the other man and let him live, a year later that man marries a woman which turns out to be the Yuki Onna and they have lots of children together, this makes us connect to her on a more personal level due to us having a desire to find a significant other just as she has done. It creates a desire for us to have the capabilities to fall in love with whoever it is we choose and then have the ability to woo that person and marry them, this is seen with the fact that she killed a man next to the guy she falls in love with and then marries that same man a year later, so surely had it not been for some unnatural powers of hers, that man would not have married her had he known it was her to begin with. All of this causes her to have an effect on society by allowing her legend to spread to the extremes in which it has done so already, this scary monster has become such an icon that is has been incorporated into games such as Pokemon Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, and the games after that-it is also important to note that the title means pocket monsters and the games are meant for children yet that have created the Pokemon called froslass which is the Yuki Onna- and she has been put into games suited for a more mature audience where you must fight her as a warrior. How else does she affect society? Besides these points also connecting with theories four and five, “The Monster Dwells at the gates of difference” and “The Monster Polices the border of Possible” she heavily ties into the first theory of, “The Monster’s body is a cultural body.” As previously mentioned, the Yuki Onna did arise from the beliefs of animism and shinto and blended together to form the legend of her being but, it is more than just that. Japan is surrounded by nature and Northern Japan receives heavy amounts of snowfall in the winter. In order to stop kids from going out into the heavy many mother from this region tell them the tale of the Yuki Onna and how she steals children or how she kills people she encounters in the snow. This cultural story causes the young children to not play in the heavy snow at night which keeps them safe all thanks to the fear of the cultural monster of the Yuki Onna. Thus this story remains in the hearts of Japanese citizens especially of the northern provinces and keeps their children from staying out too late.
Monster have always been created throughout civilization and have drawn up inspiration out of some kind of fear or a known part of their culture. The Yuki Onna is no exception to this rule as her causes for creation are linked directly to Japan’s culture and religious beliefs. Monsters do not stop at their creations, they go on to affect people, society, and cultures to which the Yuki Onna does on a grandeur level. As this essay on the causes and effects of the Yuki Onna concludes, I want to leave you off with the request to take a step back and appreciate the monsters that were created and the thrills and scares they have given to you and others which makes them an intricate part of our culture.
Monster Annotated Bib
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” Monster Theory, pp. 3–25., doi:10.5749/j.ctttsq4d.4.
This is an essay and thesis paper that we are looking over in class which discusses seven proposed theories that applies to all the monsters of every culture and that have existed
Haslem, Garth. “Yuki-Onna: the Snow Woman of Japan.” Anomalies: the Strange & Unexplained, 31 Dec. 2016, anomalyinfo.com/Topics/yuki-onna-snow-woman-japan.
Discusses the origins of the spirit, however rather than that being its main focus, it talks about how it has appeared in films lately. It mentions how we have put them into interest in recent times, adapted games out of the legend and have even put them into some new games themselves.
Mayer, Matthew. “Yokai.com.” Yuki Onna – Yokai.com, 2019, yokai.com/yukionna/.
This short little article gives some backstory as to how this spirit came about, and how they interact with humans. It gives 2 stories each with the spirit and different things about them.