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Folktales:Yukinko, the Snow Maiden

I am married to a Japanese woman who not only informs me of these tales but is also the illustrator of the images in this hub. Please enjoy!

Japanese folktales from long ago are known as "Mukashibanashi".

Japanese folktales from long ago are known as "Mukashibanashi".

The Old Couple

The last leaves had withered, flaked and scattered, and the scythe of winter had begun. The ground paled then burnished white with snow that fell into mountains and valleys.

A couple, old and kind, and seasoned in years, lived in one of those valleys. And though they had each other, the winter brought a cold loneliness.

So they built up a small mountain of snow and then they set about working it into the shape of a female child, and then they dressed it. Pleased with their work and tired because of it they went to bed and slept.

Winter Roars

The snores of the couple reached to the wind and were snatched. Their dreams too were snatched and were gathered into the wind. As they gathered, the wind grew stronger, escalating with speed and ferocity.

Their home a little small straw-thatched insulated wooden house creaked, and the noise grew louder as the contents of the house shifted and rattled. The roof on their humble abode echoing the battering that the wind gave it. The elderly lady woke.

She alerted her husband, who got up to check outside, while she did what she could to secure inside.

This tale of Yukinko is a specific tale known also as a "Setsuwa" a tale told by 'word of mouth'.

This tale of Yukinko is a specific tale known also as a "Setsuwa" a tale told by 'word of mouth'.

Yukinko, The Snow Maiden

The story of Yukinko originates from Niigata - which is the most northern prefecture of Central Japan.

The story of Yukinko originates from Niigata - which is the most northern prefecture of Central Japan.

His eyes were misted with sleep, and his cataracts gave him cause for doubt. In the eye of the storm which was only visible when the ferocity temporarily subdued was something moving. That something was where they had built their snow maiden.

He called his wife, he motioned her to be quicker, calling desperately with an urgency that she so rarely saw. She came to the entrance and as she did - the storm stopped. Everything that had been obscured due to the whipped snow flailing in the wind - dropped. The clouds opened, and the dawn came earlier that morning, shafting brilliant light that seemed to illuminate the maiden, the snow maiden, that moved towards them and spoke.

The winter that had so onerously come, was not bitter anymore. The old couple happily brought her inside their home, clothed and cared for her. They called her Yukinko. She was playful, energetic, and for a child so young, very wise in the years given to her.

Winter's Vestige, Spring's Emergence

The little girl played outside regularly, her adopting parents, the elderly couple with a permanent smile, sat on warm blankets on the engawa (veranda) and watched her with intrigue and amazement.

She always played close to the house, except one day, when she disappeared and returned with a small branch that had a tiny flower, still yet unfolded. She seemed not as happy as usual. Though brightened when she noticed her parents' concern.

"Worry not", she said "I will remain with you until that flower has budded. I will be gone but I will never truly leave you and I will return when that flower is no more."

As the flower grew, the little maiden thinned. Her roundness giving way to leanness. Until, one day, the flower was fully bloomed, and she, the snow maiden, was gone.


A Welcome Visitor

The couple were sad, but they cheered up when they remembered her words. The couple temporarily taken with grief but optimistically filled with hope, watched the seasons change: the rejuvenation of Spring; the floral majesty of Summer; the plentiful harvest of Autumn. Though most of all they waited for the Winter.

One early morning, the snow blew, and the sound woke the couple. Without hesitation, they went to the door. Glistened in the radiance of the early morning light - with an energetic and playful smile - appeared the snow girl they called Yukinko.

The Ballad of Yukinko

The Child has gone

The frosted earth thaws

Flora flourishes

The Summer's sun beats relentless

Autumn winds reset

The last flower has left

The Child Returns

(For more Japanese folktales why not visit my hub Folktales: The Fisherman and the Sea Princess.)

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