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Willow Trees and Ghosts

In the blazing heat of the midday sun the shade of a willow tree, or yanagi as it is know in Japan, is a refreshing and beautiful sight that is common in gardens, parks and alongside the many moats and canals located throughout Tokyo.  At night the shadows thrown by the long, wispy branches of this magnificently imposing tree often evoke images of the spirit world that are known as yokai.   The tales of the yanagi yokai have survived for centuries, been memorialized in artwork, and remind us to be wary of these deceptively beautiful trees, else fall victim to the  spirits that inhabit them.

Yanagi Onna (willow woman, pictured above right) is a young mother who foolishly stood underneath the branches of an old willow on a windy night. The old tree, in a foul mood, proceeded to strangle her. On foggy nights you might run across her ghost, holding a baby, standing under a willow tree.

Then there is the story of Heitaro and his Willow Wife.  Heitaro was a young farmer who loved a willow tree near his home.  He often stopped to rest or pray under it’s branches and one day he came across a mysterious woman, Higo, under the tree who would eventually become his wife. They had a child and lived happily together until the day that the Emperor ordered the tree cut down to build a temple.  As the tree fell Higo let out a piercing cry and shuddered with pain as each blow was cast upon the trunk of the tree before finally dying.  She was the spirit of the yanagi.

Yanagi Baba (the willow witch) is not so much a ghost as the actual spirit of a 1,000-year old willow. The spirit can change shape, from an old woman to a beautiful young lady and has been know to lure unsuspecting travelers under her branches.

While none of the yanagi yokai are likely to harm you you may feel a chill run down your spine or have an unsettling dream if you dare to rest under the branches of a willow tree in Tokyo.

Image Credit:  Wkimedia, ShunsenYanagi-onna and ShunsenYanagibaba