There are Winter Witches and Snow Queens that litter folklore and mythology — from giant ogresses to hags who eat children. The more you look through them, the more you notice a pattern of death and cannibalism. However, there is one wintry figure who is neither, who brings sake to weary and cold travelers. Her name is Oshiroi Baba.
Oshiroi Baba, or the Face Powder Hag, is considered a servant to the Goddess of Cosmetics and appears as an ancient looking woman, her back bent with age, leaning on a bamboo cane. She is clothed in kimono rags, with a straw hat broken and heavy with snow. In her other hand, she holds a bottle of sake. But it’s her face that gives her her name: her wrinkled and lined face is covered in oshiroi — white powder just like what the geisha’s wore. The last bit of her appearance goes to her mirror, and the reason why I leave this for last is because it is usually not seen. However, the sound of a clanging mirror being dragged behind her is always heard, alerting you of her presence.
The most commonly told stories of Oshiroi Baba are by travelers who find themselves lost and cold, wandering in snow storms. She brings her sake and offers travelers a chance to warm up before they continue on their way. The most famous story about her is very different and comes from the Hasedera Temple. According to the story, the monks were starving after their food was confiscated by the army, and they prayed, pleading that they may finish their work. The next day, they spotted a woman washing rice at the well, and as they watched, they noticed she would empty the bucket of all but a single grain, and when she would, the bucket would magically refill. She repeated this until there was enough food to feed all of the monks.
There is not much lore in regards to the Oshiroi Baba. Some believe her to be a variation of the Yuki Onna, traveling down the mountain to demand makeup or sake from travelers, others believe her to be a blessing. However, the belief that there is a winter hag who brings sake to those who are cold is a much more warming thought. So if you ever find yourself lost in the snow, keep an ear out for the sounds of a clanking mirror as it might be Oshiroi Baba bringing you warm sake to give you strength.
For more reading on Oshiroi Baba (sources):
Oshiroi Baba – The Face Powder Hag