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Amazake-Babā (甘酒婆 or あまざけばばあ, Amazake-Babā) is an old woman yōkai from the folklore of Miyagi and Aomori prefectures. She is rumored to come to the doors of houses late at night asking for amazake in a childlike voice, but if anyone answers they fall ill. It was said that to keep her away, a cedar leaf is placed in the doorway. She was also known as the goddess of chickenpox.
Amazake babā is a haggardly old woman from northeastern Japan. She is practically indistinguishable from an ordinary old woman, which makes her difficult to recognize as a yōkai until it is too late.
Amazake babā appears on winter nights and travels from house to house. She knocks on doors and calls out, “Might you have any amazake?” Those who answer her, whether the answer is yes or no, fall terribly ill. A cedar branch hung over the door is said to keep the amazake babā from approaching your house.
A variation of amazake babā from Yamanashi prefecture is called amazake banbā. She travels from house to house trying to sell sake and amazake. The consequences of replying to her are the same as with amazake babā, but the way to keep her at bay is slightly different. If you hang a sign at the front door that says “we do not like sake or amazake,” she will leave you alone and go on to the next house.
Originally amazake babā was considered to be a god of disease—specifically smallpox. During smallpox outbreaks, there was a large increase in amazake babā sightings in major urban centers across Japan, not just in the northeast. Rumors of old women roaming the streets at night selling sake and bringing sickness were rampant in large cities such as Edo, Kyōto, Osaka, and Nagoya. Fear of smallpox was a major concern in urban centers, and contributed to the popularity of amazake babā rumors.
Since the eradication of smallpox, the sickness spread by amazake babā’s has changed from smallpox to the common cold. Even today, statues of her can be found in cities. Mothers visit these statues to leave offerings of sake and amazake so that that their children will not become sick.