Friday, October 07, 2005

A true tale of Japan

A few months ago I was thinking about an odd encounter I had in Japan, and I finally came to understand what had happened. I scared someone. Not because I was a foreigner, but because they thought I wasn't.

Allow me to explain.

One winter night, when I was living in Kumagaya, I was walking down an empty street on my way back from the classroom to my apartment. This road passed the walled in area of a shrine, the entrance to the shrine was on the corner of this road and a road that intersected it. I had walked this road many times, and it was usually empty. Very seldom—given the time of night—had I seen anyone else on this road, other than a dog that was chained up out in front of a house. (He bit me once when I stopped to see if he would let me pet him.)

My winter coat that I bought in Japan (and was wearing that night) is overcoat length (just below my knees) and white. It has a fuffly/furry collar around the hood. (We speculate it's real fur, but we're not sure what kind. I'm still trying to find out.) When I put on the hood, you can't see my face. Just this figure in a white coat.

I have this, admittedly odd, fascination with watching my breath when you can see it in the winter. It just looks cool. So I was walking along down this empty street, exhaling in long, slow breaths. Not in a rush, just watching my breath and enjoying the silence of a solitary walk home.

Someone behind me starts yelling in Japanese. I assume they're either yelling at someone else. They keep yelling. Something-"ki"-onna (onna means woman) and "bakemono" (meaning monster) and other things I couldn't make out. And I think... huh, they must think I'm a hostess or something and they don't like foreign hostesses and are rude things at me.

I don't think much more of it than, wow that was very odd, and continue on my way. Eventually they stop, but not until I've gone out of sight or turned down another street.

Years later (two to be exact,) I happen upon a book called "A Field Guide to Demons." It's a real book, and it's a collection of information on various "demons" and potentially harmful spirits from around the world. There's entries in it on both the Japanese and the Chinese version of the fox spirit. This book is where I found the translation "fox fairy" which is what the Chinese term apparently means.

One of the entries is about the yuki-onna, or the Snow Woman. She's a spirit that looks like a beautiful woman dressed in white, and she lures male travellers aside in the winter and steals their breath. I don't have the book with me, so I can't confirm if the breath is just the breath or if it includes the soul as well. I believe she's like the Woman In White that we have tales of in America.

A few months after I read the article in the book, I recall the experience I had that winter night and how "yuki-onna" does sound like what was being yelled at me. And I'm thinking it wasn't a "oh look out, silly person, doing that will attract a snow woman." No, it was more like "A snow woman! Monster! Go away!"

So I apologize to that frightened woman, just doing her job to scare off evil spirits.

So I guess I was "Japanese," briefly, for one moment. And they still just wanted me to go away. ^_~


Anonymous said...

That's awesome. I love it when weird cultural tidbits get worked into one's daily life like that. =D

Makes me glad that I'm taking Humanities and (hopefully soon) Mythology. <3

~LordOfTheSofa (dA)

sarah said...

didn't we watch a movie about the yuki-onna in japanese in high school? i seem to remember it being mildly creepy and bizzarely sweet all at once.