There certainly are a lot of women yokai in Japanese folklore, some of which I’ve posted, and some of which I’ll be posting soon. I guess it’s not really limited to Japan though — after all, witches are a pretty common Western monster. Today’s yokai is a kind of witch, Yama-uba. Her name means mountain crone, and she plays the part. She preys on travelers lost in the woods, sometimes disguising herself as a beautiful young maiden, other times sneaking up on them and ensnaring them in her hair, other time offering to help them and instead capturing them, fattening them up to eat later. Interestingly, there are also stories of her being benevolent; according to legend she suckled and raised the baby Kintaro, who grew up to be a sort of Japanese Hercules.
Yama-uba is interesting to me because the mountain hag is such a staple of folkore, regardless of the culture. She could be any number of fairy tale witches, Eastern Europe’s Baba-yaga, even the creepy old bag lady who lives at the end of the street. I guess people have a natural fear of old women.
On another note, Pink Tentacle has another cool post about yokai, featuring anatomical drawings of their insides. Check it out!