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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.