Monday, 26 September 2011

Japanese Folklore: Yuki-Onna Origins Part I 'The Kwaidan/Kaidan'

Branching out from my last post, I decided to hone in on a more specialized area, namely Japanese Folklore. My reasoning is simply because I want to be able to recognise traits and motif's associated with particular traditional Japanese stories, in order to extract the morals/value put across in the Tale of Yuki-Onna. By doing so, this allows me modernise and adapt the character to a future scenario, building on what has already been established and bringing a fresh twist to the underlying symbolism's.

The folklore of Japan is heavily influenced by both Shinto and Buddhism, the two primary religions in the country. It often involves humorous or bizarre characters and situations and also includes an assortment of supernatural beings, such as bodhisattva, kami (gods and revered spirits), yōkai (monster-spirits) (such as oni, kappa, and tengu), yūrei (ghosts), dragons, and animals with supernatural powers such as the kitsune (fox), tanuki (raccoon dog), mujina (badger), bakeneko (transforming cat), and baku (tapir), as well as sacred objects and possessed objects.

Now, with Yuki-Onna considered part of Japanese folklore, it makes sense to travel down this path of research. Upon further reading into the Yuki-Onna, her origin or rather first 'recorded' telling comes from a book known as 'Kwaiden: Story & Studies of Strange Things' written by 'Lafcadio Hearn' stories that were translated from old Japanese texts. Hearn declares in his introduction to the first edition of the book, which he wrote on January 20, 1904, shortly before his death, that the tale of Yuki-Onna was told to him by a farmer in Musashi Province, and his was to the best of his knowledge, the first record of it as he states in his introduction:

'One queer tale, "Yuki-Onna," was told me by a farmer of Chofu, Nishitama-gori, in Musashi province, as a legend of his native village. Whether it has ever been written in Japanese I do not know; but the extraordinary belief which it records used certainly to exist in most parts of Japan, and in many curious forms'

Kwaiden ebook

To gain a better understanding of the area, here's a little background information on the Musashi Province:

Musashi Province was a province of Japan, which in modern day comprises Tokyo Prefecture, most of Saitama Prefecture and part of Kanagawa Prefecture (Tokyo being the largest metropolitan area of Japan and capital. Musashi sits in the middle of the Kanto plain, the largest plain in Japan located in the Kanto Region of central Honshū. The total area 17,000 sq km covers more than half of the Region extending over Tokyo, Saitama Prefecture, Kanagawa Prefecture, Chiba Prefecture, Gunma Prefecture, and Tochigi Prefecture.

The Chofu Jewel River in Musashi Province,
1847 - 1852 by Kuniyoshi (1797 - 1861)


Chofu in Musashi Province)
Six Jewel Rivers in Various Province 1857 (Eleventh month)

The spelling "KWAIDAN" is based on pre-modern Japanese pronunciation; when Hearn came to Japan, the orthography reflecting this pronunciation was still in use. In modern Japanese the word is pronounced KAIDAN. Following the strand of translation of 'KWAIDAN' to 'KAIDAN' which roughly translates to 'Ghost Story'.

In order to break up some of the research, I will continue breaking down the origin point of Yuki-Onna in another post, featuring in detail the term 'Kaiden' and it's relation to Yuki-Onna, as well as the classification & relation of Yuki-Onna to Japanese Folklore.

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