Oshiroibaba (白粉婆)

Oshiroibaba (also called "Oshiroibabaa") or "Oshiroi Basan" is a specter in the form of an old woman according a legend told in the basin of Totsu-kawa River, Yoshino-gun, Nara Prefecture.


This specter is said to look like an old woman who appears by dragging a mirror and making a jangling sound.

In "Konjaku Hyakki Shui" (Ancient and Modern Gleanings of the Hundred Demons) by Sekien TORIYAMA, it is depicted under the name "Oshiroibaba" as a very stooped old woman with a large, ragged umbrella over her head, walking with a stick in her right hand and holding a sake bottle in her left hand. According to an expository writing of the same book, it is a waiting woman serving a deity of face powder called "Shifunsenjo" (Goddess of White Powder); however, it is unclear whether this is the same one as the Oshiroibaba according to the legend in Nara. It is said that the face is entirely painted with white powder; the painting is not only thick but also very dauby, in such a way that one feels scared just by looking at the face.

In "Zusetsu Minzokugaku Zenshu" (Illustrated Collection of Folklore) written by a folklorist called Morihiko FUJISAWA, it is depicted as a specter of the same type as Yuki Onna (Snow Woman) and that it appears on a snow night seeking sake in the Noto Peninsula region in Ishikawa Prefecture; however, there is actually no such tradition in Noto and one theory has it that Fujisawa invented the story by association of "Konjaku Hyakki Shui".

Also, although the relation with the above-described Oshiroibaba is unclear, there is also the following legend in which an old woman named "Oshiroibaba" appeared during the Muromachi period.

In response to an idea generated by Reverend Koshin, zasu (a head priest of a temple) of Hase-dera Temple, artist monks gathered from all over the country to paint Kannon Bosatsu (Kannon Buddhisattva), which is honzon (principal object of worship at a temple) of the temple, on a sheet of paper, as large as the entire hondo (main hall), in hope that the conditions of the war-torn country would improve as much as possible. One day, however, troops of Ashikaga Shogun intruded the temple and rooted out the crops of the temple in requisition. Artist-monks who heard the rumor feared that no food may be served to them; however, a trainee priest of the temple who explained the circumstances informed the artist-monks that food can still be prepared with the saving of Kannon. Artist-monks, in wonder, were led by the trainee priest to the well where a young girl was washing rice. When the girl washed the rice in a tub and emptied it in a colander, a single grain of rice remained in the tub; when the girl soaked it in water, the rice swelled and filled the tub entirely, and kept increasing as the girl washed the rice. One of the artist-monks, wishing to see the face of the girl who may be an incarnation of Kannon (Deity of Mercy), threw a pebble at her without listing to his associates who tried to stop him. Then a light, which was reminiscent of Pure Land, appeared and the girl raised her race. The face, which was painted with white powder, was like that of a wrinkled old woman because she had been through a lot for the sake of the artist-monks. However, none of the artist-monks noticed the girl's true face because they were all down on their knees before her radiance and with their gratefulness. Since then, the artist-monks focused on their work and completed an admirable piece of a large portrait. Even today, there is a hall for Oshiroibaba in the precincts of the Hase-dera Temple where the old woman is enshrined. Until around the Meiji period, an event of painting this statue with white powder was held at Shusho-e (New Year's Service) during New Year Holidays every year.

This legend is very faithfully visualized in a film by Daiei Motion Pictures titled "The 100 Ghost Stories".

[Original Japanese]