The Two Children and the Yama Uba

In Japanese folklore there is a tale about a sister and brother and their encounter with a yama uba, a type of yokai sometimes translated as a mountain witch. One year their persimmon tree was full of ripe fruit so their mother suggested they take some to their grandmother who lived in the mountains. She warned them to walk quickly and beware in case they met a yama uba along the way. 

'Picking Persimmons' - Ishikawa Toyonobu, ca. 1750s (detail)
They set off and soon encountered a kind old woman who asked them where they were going. When they explained that they were taking the persimmons to their grandmother's house, the old woman laughed and told them that she was their grandmother. The sister said that she could not possibly be because their grandmother had a mole on her cheek. The old woman claimed that she had covered the mole with rice powder then disappeared, only to return soon after with a mole on her cheek.

Katsukawa Shunsho

The children ran to embrace her believing that she was indeed their grandmother. They continued walking and along the way grandmother noisily crunched on one persimmon after another with teeth that seemed stronger than the children could remember. When they got to the house she cooked them a lovely dinner after which it was time for bed. The two children argued over who would sleep with their grandmother that night.

'Housr at Okutana' - Kasamatsu Shiro, 1955
The sister won and so the brother curled up to sleep on his own. During the night he was woken by loud crunching noises and he assumed his grandmother was eating more of the persimmons. He called out to her to throw him one and with a thud something rolled towards him. When he picked it up he saw with horror that it was his sister's bloody arm. Realising at last that his grandmother was a yama uba, the boy ran out of the house with the old hag in pursuit. 

Suzuki Harunobu

Passing a tree, he climbed up quickly, stripped off his clothes and tied them to the branches, then kept running for his life. The wicked yama uba arrived and when she looked up she thought the boy was in the tree and so went to get her friends to share the feast. When they all arrived back and realised that it was only empty clothes hanging in the tree, they were so angry at her for tricking them that they killed her on the spot.

'Landscape with Pine Trees' - Keisai Eisen, 1848

You can read more about yama uba here.

'Persimmons' - Kubo Shunman
'Picking Persimmons' - Ishikawa Toyonobu, ca. 1750s