Check out Episode 17 of the Read Literature podcast.
In this episode…
Is she a man-eating crone?
Is she a lonely wanderer?
Or is she a sensual matriarch?
However you define her, she’s the yama-uba—Japan’s legendary mountain witch.
Correction: This episode claims former health minister Hakuo Yanagisawa called women “child-bearing machines” in 2020. He actually made those comments in 2007.
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Yamamba: In Search of the Japanese Mountain Witch edited by Rebecca Copeland and Linda C. Ehrlich
- includes Minako Oba’s “The Smile of the Mountain Witch” (translated by Norkio Mizuta Lippit, assisted by Mariko Ochi)
“The Smile of the Mountain Witch” also appears in
- Japanese Women Writers: Twentieth Century Short Fiction edited by Yukiko Tanaka and Elizabth Hansen
- The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories edited by Jay Rubin
This episode also recommends:
- The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino (translated by Rebecca Copeland)
- Masks by Fumiko Enchi (translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter)
- Woman Running in the Mountains by Yuko Tsushima (translated by Geraldine Harcourt)
Find Out More
Hyakumonogatari Kaidanka: Translated Japanese Ghost Stories and Tales of the Weird and the Strange. Zack Davisson is an English-language expert on Japanese manga and folklore. His work is accessible, and everything on this website is free to read.
The-Noh.com is a great resource for learning more about Nōh theater. This link will take you to a summary of Yamamba, including text from the play in Japanese and English.
The Asia-Pacific Journal on Japan’s Marital System Reform. A free-to-read and relatively up-to-date article.
Unseen Japan on “The Feminist Movement in Japan: WWII to the 1970s”. Part of a 3-part series about feminism in Japan, beginning in the Meiji Era.
More from RJL about sexism in Japan. This article includes my strongly-worded negative review of the book Before the Coffee Gets Cold.
Other RJL episodes of interest:
- Episode 1: The Kojiki. Japan’s creation myth. Many people consider The Kojiki’s Izanami a kind of proto-yama-uba.
- Episode 2: The Tale of Genji. The role of women in Heian Japan. Genji’s lover, the Lady of Rokujo, is one of the great monstrous women of Japanese literature.
- Episode 7: Kaidan—Japan’s Ghost Stories. Minako Oba translated Ueda Akinari’s Tales of Moonlight and Rain into modern Japanese.
- Episode 9: The Women Writers of Meiji Japan. Early Japanese feminism. The 1st generation of prominent women writers in 1000 years.
“Literature” at Japanese Wiki Corpus
Japanese Literature at Facebook
Japanese Literature at Goodreads
Ashkenazi, Michael. “Yama-Uba” in Handbook of Japanese Mythology. ABC Clio, 2003.
Bullock, Julia C. “Burning Down the House: Fantasies of Liberation in the Era of ‘Women’s Lib’” in Japanese Language and Literature, 2015.
Copeland, Rebecca. “Mythical Bad Girls: The Corpse, the Crone, and the Snake” in Bad Girls of Japan, ed. Laura Miller and Jan Bardsley. Palgrave MacMilllan, 2005.
Copeland, Rebecca and Linda C. Ehrlich. Yamamba: In Search of the Japanese Mountain Witch. Stone Bridge, 2021.
Davisson, Zack. “What’s the Difference between Urei and Yokai” at HyakumonogatariKaidankai.com, 2013. (free)
Foster, Michael Dylan. The Book of Yokai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore. U of CA, 2015.
Fusek, Alyssa Pearl. “The Feminist Movement in Japan: WWII to the 1970s” at UnseenJapan.com, 2020. (free)
Gordon, Andrew. A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present, 4th ed. OUP, 2019.
Hansen, Kelly. “Deviance and Decay in the Body of a Modern Mountain Witch: Ōba Minako’s ‘Yamanba no bishō’” in Japanese Language and Literature, 2014.
Hurley, Adrienne. “Demons, Transnational Subjects, and the Fiction of Ohba Minako” in Ōe and Beyond: Fiction in Contemporary Japan, ed. Stephen Synder and Philip Gabriel, U Hawaii, 1999.
Landau, Samantha. “Subversions of Gender and Power in Ōba Minako’s ‘Yamamba no Bishō’” in Gakuen, 2015.
Lippit, Noriko Mizuta and Kyoko Iriye Selden. “Introduction” in Japanese Women Writers: Twentieth Century Short Fiction, ed. and trans. Noriko Mizuta Lippit and Kyoko Iriye Selden. Routledge, 1991.
Mackie, Vera. Feminism in Modern Japan. Cambridge UP, 2003.
Mizuta Noriko. “The Dream of the Yamanba—An Overview” (translated by Luciana Sanga) in Review of Japanese Culture and Society, 2018.
“Ōba Minako” in Japanese Women Writers: A Bio-critical Sourcebook, ed. Chieko Mulhern. Greenwood Press, 1994.
Oba Minako. “Special Address: Without Beginning, Without End” (translated by Paul Gordon Schalow) in The Woman’s Hand: Gender and Theory in Japanese Women’s Writing, ed. Paul Gordon Schaler and Janet A. Walker. Stanford UP, 1996.
Reider, Norkio. Japanese Demon Lore: Oni from Ancient Times to the Present. Utah State UP, 2010.
–. “Locating the Yamamba” in Yamamba: In Search of the Japanese Mountain Witch, ed. Rebecca Copeland and Linda C. Ehrlich. Stone Bridge, 2021.
–. Mountain Witches: Yamauba. UT State UP, 2021.
Schaler, Paul Gordon and Janet A. Walker, eds. The Woman’s Hand: Gender and Theory in Japanese Women’s Writing. Stanford UP, 1996.
Toyoda Etsuko. “Japan’s Marital System Reform: The Fūfubessei Movement for Individual Rights” at The Asia-Pacific Journal, 2020. (free)
Viswanathan, Meera. “In Pursuit of the Yamamaba: The Question of Female Resistance” in The Woman’s Hand: Gender and Theory in Japanese Women’s Writing, ed. Paul Gordon Schaler and Janet A. Walker. Stanford UP, 1996.
Wilson, Michiko Niikuni. Gender Is Fair Game: (Re)Thinking the (Fe)Male in the Works of Ōba Minako. M. E. Sharpe, 1999.
–. “Introduction” in Of Birds Crying (translated by Michael K. Wilson and Michiko N. Wilson). Cornell UP, 2011.
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