A-Yokai-A-Day: Ouni

Most yokai stories involve people reaping what evil they sow, or simply just getting screwed over for no apparent reason… Every now and then there is a story about someone who gets a reward for helping a yokai, but it is almost always attached to some twist where he asks for more and more reward and ends up getting screwed over again in the end. Very rarely are there any yokai who just help people… so today I chose one that does just that!

Ouni (苧うに, おうに)

You have to be careful not to get ouni mixed up with the oni. The names look and sound almost exactly the same, but they are very different yokai!

Ouni is a kind of yamauba. While we’ve looked at a few different variants of evil yamauba, including Kurozuka/onibaba, there are also yamauba which can be personable, even downright friendly. Ouni is one of the nice yamauba.

Ouni looks like an ugly old woman with an angry face and a body covered in long, black hair. She appears at houses and huts out in the countryside or up in the mountains late at night. She asks the owners of the house to give her lodging and a meal for the night. If they are kind and invite her in, she stays the night, and during the night she spins an enormous amount of thread for the family, and then vanishes without a trace. In some stories, the owner runs out to thank the old woman, but all he can find are her footprints.

The name ouni comes from 苧 (karamushi), or ramie, which is an East-Asian plant that can be spun into thread and used for textiles. So her name comes from the plant which she spins into thread for her generous hosts. Alternatively, she is sometimes called wauwau, which has no meaning at all but sounds really funny!

Ouni

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