In Search of the Japanese Mountain Witch
Women, Magic, Wisdom: Explore a Japanese myth through the words and images of key scholars and artists.
Alluring, nurturing, dangerous, and vulnerable the yamamba, or Japanese mountain witch, has intrigued audiences for centuries. What is it about the fusion of mountains with the solitary old woman that produces such an enigmatic figure? And why does she still call to us in this modern, scientific era?
Co-editors Rebecca Copeland and Linda C. Ehrlich first met the yamamba in the powerful short story “The Smile of the Mountain Witch” by acclaimed woman writer Ōba Minako. The story revealed the compelling way creative women can take charge of misogynistic tropes, invert them, and use them to tell new stories of female empowerment.
This unique collection represents the creative and surprising ways artists and scholars from North America and Japan have encountered the yamamba.
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“Fascinating… Readers can discover [The Yamamba’s] many dimensions and multiple layers as seen through the words of an impressive group of authors.”
—Books on Asia
“An original collection of multifarious narratives and voices… that further amplify the symbolic significance of the yamamba while shedding new light on seminal yamamba narratives.”
"Voices from across the oceans and across disciplines (actors, professors and poets) intermingle and speak to each other through a variety of mediums such as interviews and commentary. The essays are fascinating, accessible and deeply informative, and the short stories build on each other to paint a wonderfully multifaceted picture of the yamamba."
—Claire Ning Fang, Yale News
"Yamamba: In Search of the Japanese Mountain Witch goes a long way to enlightening the many appearances and contradictions of this fascinating cultural archetype and is highly recommended."
"This anthology--through interviews, modern prose, narrative and poetry--questions the premise of that fear, then goes a long way to deepening our understanding of the mystical, often maligned Japanese legend who is a force to be reckoned with, even in modern times."
"These are evocative and timely writings that foreground the protean presence and multifaceted dynamism of the yamamba (mountain witch) beyond place and before time. The authors dismantle the misogynist treatment of the yamamba in masculinist canons and resurrect her powerful voice and the silenced voices of all independent women."
—Jennifer Robertson, author of Robo Sapiens Japanicus: Robots, Gender, Family, and the Japanese Nation
“Yamamba: In Search of the Japanese Mountain Witch exemplifies the ways creative minds can upend sexist images to craft new engaging stories of female empowerment.”
—Mari Boyd, Professor Emeritus, Sophia University
"Deftly unmasking the iconic Japanese witch through creative, scholarly, and speculative approaches, this collection is as enchanting and compelling as the yamamba herself."
—Kristen J. Sollée, author of Witches, Sluts, Feminists
"Yamamba bursts with life, being that rare balance of both a scholarly and poetic celebration of Japan’s woman of the woods. A combination of essays and interviews with new art, stories, and poems; I would love to see more books like this.”
—Zack Davisson, author of Kaibyo: The Supernatural Cats of Japan
Copeland and Ehrlich’s inventive Yamamba offers vibrant responses to Japan’s beguiling Mountain Witch. Encompassing dance, poetry, fiction, essays, and the visual arts, this collection takes readers on imaginative paths of inquiry. Entertaining and intriguing, it will enhance readers' appreciation of Japanese arts, lore, and literature, inviting their own creativity.
—Jan Bardsley, Professor Emerita (UNC Chapel Hill) and author of Maiko Masquerade: Crafting Geisha Girlhood in Japan
"Through poems, stories, and interviews with dancers of Noh and modern plays, this book gives a fascinating take on the Yamamba in Japanese folklore."
—Hiroaki Sato, award winning translator and poet, and author of On Haiku and others
“This bewitching collection weaves together myth, scholarship and creative arts to reveal little-known truths about Japanese culture, gender relations, and the whole human condition. The Japanese mountain witch comes from folklore but lives on in contemporary pop culture and on the Noh stage. She is everywhere that female voices have been suppressed and independent women accused of being witches. Smart yet accessible, Yamamba casts a powerful spell.”
—Kittredge Cherry, author of Womansword: What Japanese Words Say About Women
"A really fresh and innovative approach to a fascinating subject. The yamamba will always remain a figure of mystery, but the consistently provocative think pieces, short stories, poems, and interviews presented in Yamamba: In Search of the Japanese Mountain Witch capture her multifaceted appeal."
—Susan Napier, author of Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art and The Fantastic in Modern Japanese Literature: The Subversion of Modernity
"This volume offers a splendid journey through multiple literary genres and a few visual media in pursuit of the many faces of Yamamba. We meet her as the withered old woman who is perhaps her most popular guise; we hear of the “young, alluring, and maternal Yamamba”; and we encounter her posing as a human, using her powers of clairvoyance to satisfy her family’s everyday expectations. Collectively, the authors plumb the depths of these expressions to contemplate what Yamamba represents. Is she a specter spurred by ancient misogynistic attitudes? Is she a phantasm celebrating liberated, independent women? Or can she be a salve for society? But, as one author reminds us, “Yamamba can always be reimagined.” This multi-faceted collection will undoubtedly prompt further contemplation."
—Julia Sapin, Professor of Art History, Western Washington University
About the Author(s)
Rebecca Copeland is a professor of Japanese literature at Washington University in St. Louis, a writer of fiction and literary criticism, and a translator of Japanese literature.