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Yama-uba is a yōkai found in Japanese folklore. The word can also be written as 山母, 山姫, or 山女郎. Yama-uba is often portrayed as an old woman who lives in the mountains and forests of Japan. In some legends, she is depicted as a witch who can change her appearance to better capture lost travelers.

According to Japanese folklore, Yama-uba was once human but became corrupted and transformed into a monster. She is known for tricking and devouring lost travelers, making her a feared figure in Japanese mythology. Despite this, there are also tales of Yama-uba offering food and shelter to travelers who stumble upon her hut by the road.

Yama-uba’s story has been passed down through generations and has become a popular character in Japanese culture and media. The legend of Yama-uba has inspired various forms of art, including paintings and woodblock prints. Her influence can also be seen in modern Japanese pop culture, making her a beloved figure in Japanese folklore.

Origin Myths

Folklore Beginnings

Yama-uba is a fascinating creature deeply rooted in Japanese folklore. According to legend, Yama-uba is a mountain witch who lives in the forests of the mountains in Japan. She is often depicted as an old woman in a kimono, and is known for her hideous appearance. In many stories, Yama-uba likes to trick lost travelers and devour them.

One of the most famous tales involving Yama-uba is the story of Kintarō. In this tale, a mother traveling to her village is forced to give birth in a mountain hut assisted by a seemingly kind old woman, only to discover, when it is too late, that the stranger is actually Yama-uba, with plans to eat the helpless Kintarō.

Regional Variations

The myth of Yama-uba has regional variations, with different versions of the story found in different parts of Japan. In some regions, Yama-uba is depicted as a nurturing mother hidden in the mountain’s bosom, while in others, she is seen as a nightmarish ogre preying on lost souls.

In the Aomori area in the north of Honshu, for example, Yama-uba is said to be a shape-shifting creature that can transform into a beautiful woman to lure in unsuspecting victims. In other regions, Yama-uba is portrayed as a cannibalistic monster with a taste for human flesh.

Despite the variations in the myth of Yama-uba, one thing is clear: this enigmatic creature has captured the imagination of the Japanese people for generations, and continues to be an important part of Japanese folklore and culture.

Characteristics of Yama-Uba


Yama-uba is a yōkai that is often depicted as an old woman with long, unkempt golden-white hair and a mouth that stretches the width of her face. Her kimono is typically tattered and dirty, and she is often portrayed as a hideous crone with cannibalistic tendencies. Some legends say that her hair can transform into a snake, and in some cases, she even has a second mouth on her skull.

Powers and Abilities

Yama-uba is known for her supernatural powers and abilities. She is often depicted as a powerful witch who can control the elements and manipulate nature. She is also said to have the ability to shapeshift into different forms, such as a beautiful young woman or an old hag. In some legends, her blood is said to be yellow, and it is believed that her tears have healing properties.

Overall, Yama-uba is a fascinating and complex yōkai that has captivated the imaginations of people for centuries. With her terrifying appearance and powerful abilities, she is a force to be reckoned with in Japanese folklore.

Cultural Significance

Yama-uba has been a prominent figure in Japanese folklore and culture for centuries. The mountain witch has been featured in various forms of art, literature, and theater.

Literature and Theater

In Japanese literature, Yama-uba has been depicted as a fearsome and powerful witch. She is often portrayed as a shapeshifter who can transform into a beautiful woman or a terrifying monster. One of the most famous tales featuring Yama-uba is the story of Kintaro, a legendary folk hero who was raised by the mountain witch. In this tale, Yama-uba is depicted as a nurturing mother figure who teaches Kintaro the ways of the forest.

Yama-uba has also been featured in Japanese theater. In the Noh play “Yamamba,” she is portrayed as a lonely and tragic figure who longs for companionship. The play explores themes of isolation and the human desire for connection.

Modern Interpretations

In modern times, Yama-uba has been reimagined in various forms of media. In the anime series “Naruto,” she is depicted as a powerful ninja who possesses immense strength and magical powers. In the video game “Okami,” Yama-uba is portrayed as a kind and gentle spirit who helps the player on their journey.

Yama-uba’s enduring popularity in Japanese culture is a testament to her significance as a symbol of nature, magic, and the supernatural. Whether portrayed as a fearsome monster or a nurturing mother figure, Yama-uba continues to captivate audiences with her enigmatic and mysterious persona.


Artistic Depictions

Yama-uba is often depicted in Japanese art as an old woman with long, unkempt hair, wearing a tattered red kimono. In some depictions, she is shown with a large mouth and sharp teeth, ready to devour unsuspecting travelers. She is also sometimes shown holding a kama, a traditional Japanese sickle used for harvesting rice.


In Japanese folklore, Yama-uba represents the dangers of the wilderness and the unpredictability of nature. Her ability to change her appearance and trick travelers serves as a warning to be cautious and aware of one’s surroundings. In some stories, she is also seen as a symbol of greed and gluttony, as she is known for devouring humans and animals alike.

Despite her terrifying reputation, Yama-uba has also been used as a symbol of strength and resilience. In some modern depictions, she is shown as a powerful witch or warrior, capable of defending herself and her territory against any threat. Her connection to the natural world has also made her a popular figure in environmentalist movements, representing the need to respect and protect the wilderness.

Overall, Yama-uba’s iconography has evolved over time to reflect changing attitudes towards nature, femininity, and power in Japanese culture.

Comparisons with Other Entities

Oni and Tengu

In Japanese folklore, Oni and Tengu are two entities that are often compared to Yama-uba. Oni are typically depicted as large, horned demons that inhabit the mountains and forests of Japan. They are known for their strength and ferocity, and are said to enjoy causing mischief and mayhem. Tengu, on the other hand, are bird-like creatures that are often seen as protectors of the mountains. They are known for their intelligence and martial prowess, and are sometimes depicted as tricksters.

While Yama-uba shares some similarities with both Oni and Tengu, there are also some key differences. Unlike Oni, Yama-uba is typically depicted as an old woman, rather than a demon. Similarly, while Tengu are often seen as protectors of the mountains, Yama-uba is usually portrayed as a malevolent figure.

Western Counterparts

While Yama-uba is a distinctly Japanese entity, there are some Western counterparts that share similar characteristics. One such entity is the witch, which is often depicted as an old woman with magical powers. Like Yama-uba, witches are often seen as malevolent figures who use their powers to harm others.

Another Western counterpart to Yama-uba is the hag, which is a type of female spirit that is often associated with death and decay. Like Yama-uba, hags are often depicted as old women, and are said to have the power to shape-shift and cast spells.

Overall, while Yama-uba is a unique entity in Japanese folklore, there are several Western counterparts that share similar characteristics. Whether in Japan or the West, old women with magical powers have long been a staple of folklore and mythology.