Today’s story is from Japan. It was told by Lafcadio Hearn in Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, 1907. I found it in D. L. Ashliman’s collection of Folklore and Mythology.
In a village of Musashi Province, there lived two woodcutters: Mosaku, an old man, and his apprentice, Minokichi. Every day they went together to a forest situated about five miles from their village. On the way to that forest there is a wide river and a ferry-boat that took people across. One night the two men were heading home when a snowstorm overtook them. When they reached the ferry, the boatman had already left. The men took shelter for the night in the boatman’s hut, even though it had no heat and no place to build a fire.
Mosaku and Minokichi fastened the door, and lay down to rest, with their straw raincoats over them. The old man almost immediately fell asleep; but the boy, Minokichi, lay awake a long time, listening to the awful wind, and the continual slashing of the snow against the door. It became colder and colder and eventually Minokichi, too, fell asleep. He was awakened by a showering of snow in his face. The door of the hut had been forced open, and he saw a woman in the room, a woman all in white. She was bending above Mosaku, and then she turned to Minokichi, and stooped over him. He tried to cry out, but found that he could not utter a sound. The white woman bent down over him, lower and lower, until her face almost touched him. She was very beautiful, but her eyes made him afraid.
For a little time she continued to look at him; then she smiled, and she whispered, “I intended to treat you like the other man. But I cannot help feeling some pity for you, because you are so young. You are a pretty boy, Minokichi; and I will not hurt you now. But, if you ever tell anybody about what you have seen this night, I shall know it; and then I will kill you. Remember what I say!” With these words, she turned from him and left.
By dawn the storm was over. When the ferry-man returned to his station, he found Minokichi lying senseless beside the frozen body of Mosaku. Minokichi was cared for, and eventually recovered from the terrible night, but he said nothing about the vision of the woman in white. As soon as he got well again, he returned to his woodcutting, going alone every morning to the forest, and coming back at nightfall with his bundles of wood, which his mother helped him to sell.
One evening, in the winter of the following year, as he was on his way home, he overtook a girl who happened to be travelling by the same road. She was a tall, slim girl, very good-looking. The girl said that her name was 0-Yuki [this name, signifying Snow, is not uncommon]. She had lost both of her parents, and was going to Yedo, where she happened to have some poor relations who might help her to find a situation as servant.
Minokichi was charmed by this strange girl, and asked her to rest for a while at his home. After some shy hesitation, she went with him. His mother made her welcome, and prepared a warm meal for her. Not surprisingly, 0-Yuki never made it to Yedo. She eventually married Minokichi and they had ten children.
One night, after the children had gone to sleep, 0-Yuki was sewing by the light of a paper lamp, and Minokichi, watching her, said, “To see you sewing there, with the light on your face, makes me think of a strange thing that happened when I was a lad of eighteen. I then saw somebody as beautiful and white as you are now; indeed, she was very like you.” . . .
Without lifting her eyes from her work, 0-Yuki asked him to tell her about it. And here’s where Minokichi makes his mistake. He told her all about the terrible night and the White Woman.
0-Yuki flung down her sewing, and arose, and bowed above Minokichi where he sat, and shrieked into his face, “It was I — I — I! 0-Yuki it was! And I told you then that I would kill you if you ever said one word about it! But for those children asleep there, I would kill you this moment! And now you had better take very, very good care of them; for if ever they have reason to complain of you, I will treat you as you deserve!”
Even as she screamed, her voice became thin, like a crying of wind; then she melted into a bright white mist that floated to the roof and shuddered away through the smoke-hole. She was never seen again.
She seems more angry than sad at the end. She could very easily have told Minokichi not to tell her about the woman, had she actually loved him, but she didn’t. I wonder if she went back to being the “White Woman” after she left Minokichi’s house.
Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all. I will be taking a break from them during April due to the A to Z challenge, but they will be back in May.