Meeting Yubaba and A Visit With Zeniba

“My sister and I are two halves of a whole, but we really don’t get along. You’ve seen what bad taste she has. Sorceress twins are just a recipe for trouble.”

– Zeniba

Twins are often a unique situation within any form of literature or media. Twins can be identical in appearance such as the case of Yubaba and Zeniba, or so identical as to be one entity at the same time and have similar personalities. With Yubaba and Zeniba, they are two sides to the same coin. You cannot have evil without some good, nor can you have greed without generosity. Yubaba and Zeniba are essentially yin and yang; you can’t have one without the other.


“You still can’t see that you’ve lost something precious?”

– Haku

Yubaba01Yubaba (translated as bathhouse witch) is the sorceress who rules this world, according to Haku. How far her reach in this world is, we don’t really know, even if we do see her coming and going from the bathhouse in the shape of a large bird with a human head. Her appearance and office tell a lot about the type of who she is: she’s got large jeweled rings on every finger, red nail polish, her hair in a perfect bun on top of her head, heavy make-up, with her head appearing too big for her body, while her desk is filled with book, gold and satchels filled with gold. This is a woman who cares for profit and little else besides her baby. Her greed, although not as prevalent as her workers, is obvious when she claims any gold for herself. She also sees little profit in Chihiro’s appearance; she’s weak so how could she possibly work hard enough to gain her any profit. She does have to follow the rules and adhere to the oath she took to give anyone a job who asks for one. Even though, she gives Chihiro a job, she threatens her that if she isn’t useful then she’ll turn her into an animal or coal. She uses her position and abilities to manipulate others into following her rules; when she doesn’t get her way, she becomes easily angered.

Yubaba’s magic can be used for fixing messes, attacking customers, stopping people from talking but the most notable thing about Yubaba02her magic is her ability to take a person’s name. A person’s name is the often linked to a person’s identity. Yubaba forcibly takes a person’s identity from them when they sign a contract with her. Upon taking someone’s name, they begin to forget who they are, or at least who they were before they came to the bathhouse. We see two direct results of this in Chihiro and Haku. This ruling others by stealing their identity is not an uncommon theme in our own world; we have seen it during the Holocaust/Shoah in the Second World War and in residential schools in Canada. Removing someone’s identity means they are inferior, and allows for a certain amount of control through fear. Yubaba uses fear to control her workers and her apprentice into doing what she wants all for the sake of profit.

Yet, Yubaba’s identity does have a good side. Her entire body language and voice changes whenever she’s dealing with Boh. She uses that sweet high babyish voice that everyone seems to get whenever talking to a baby. She will do anything for her boy including attack Haku in attempt to find out what has happened to her boy. Of course, she was unable to tell who he is when he sees him as a mouse saying, “What’s that filthy rat?” Yet, she protects Sen from No Face momentarily when he is chasing Yubaba04after her stating “not on her premises” as if refusing to allow him to harm her is important. She also abides by the rules of the world even if it doesn’t always make her happy. We also don’t get to see the full story of how being called Granny by Chihiro might have an impact on her or change her in anyway. She simply questions it but doesn’t stop Chihiro from calling her Granny.

Overall, Yubaba’s love of profits and her use of position, power and abilities to threaten and Yubaba05control others (and their identity) shows an identity that appears only to be of someone who knows the cost of everything. Yubaba’s actions show how fragile her identity is. As soon as she can no longer threaten others because they have control of the situation, she no longer has power. This is seen when Haku knows where Boh is and will retrieve him for her in return for a favour. Her position, her abilities can no longer help her hold control or sway over Haku and she must do as he asks so she can have her son back. Without her ability to control others, Yubaba loses her most powerful tool and the one aspect of her identity that seems the most prominent.


“Oh, dear, can’t you even tell me from your own mother?”

– Zeniba

Zeniba02Upon first meeting, Zeniba, we believe we have the same type of character as Yubaba, using her power to control others but this is not entirely true. Zeniba uses her powers to punish Haku for stealing her golden seal and to make her twin sister upset over losing her Boh temporarily. She knows her sister is greedy and feels that perhaps she deserves to be tricked. Still, we soon begin to see Zeniba as a happy, sweet, kind, polite old woman; she could be someone’s grandmother. She serves tea and sweets to her guests, teaches Boh and No Face how to spin yarn and knit, and gives what little advice she can to Chihiro saying, “you’ve got
to take care of your parents and that dragon boyfriend of yours, on your own.” Zeniba may have the power to help Chihiro but does Zeniba03not use it unnecessarily like her sister. She even gives Chihiro a hair band that will protect her and doesn’t blame Haku for stealing from her.
Zeniba’s identity is shown to be in such great contrast to her sister’s that it’s almost surprising that they are identical twins. She lives in such simple and sparse conditions compared to her sister’s extravagant bathhouse. She’s does not threaten or control anyone, and only uses herpowers to get back at her sister or to provide protection. She is the archetypical grandmotherly figure while Yubaba is the “old witch”.

 Yubaba and Zeniba

Zeniba01Yubaba and Zeniba look the same but act very differently. Although, Chihiro begins to see them both as Granny, Yubaba still uses her powers for profit while Zeniba uses her powers more sparingly. Without Zeniba, we could never see the potential that Yubaba could have; she may not always be the bad, old witch but instead with time and the right environment she could be the kind grandmother Zeniba is. Yet, Yubaba and Zeniba are two sides to the same coin, we are unable to have the kind grandmother if we didn’t have the bad, old witch. Yubaba’s greed has to be balanced out by Zeniba’s kindness. Zeniba says that they are “two halves of a whole” and thus it suggesting that together they are able to be balance each other out, perhaps rub off on the other. It could also suggest that because they “really don’t get along” that Yubaba has always been greedy and to counteract her Zeniba has always been her opposite.

Yubaba and Zeniba’s identities cannot be separated from one another, just like yin and yang. Yin and yang are part of the Chinese philosophy Taoism. In this philosophy, yin represents “the feminine or negative principle (characterized by dark, wetness, cold, passivity, disintegration, etc.) of the opposing cosmic forces into which creative energy divides and whose fusion in physical matters brings the phenomenal world into being”[i], while yang represents “the masculine or positive principle (characterized by light, warmth, dryness, activity, etc.)”[ii]. Together the yin-yang as it is known, is the “combination or fusion of the two cosmic forces; a circle divided by an S-shaped line into a dark and a light segment, representing respectively yin and yang, each containing a ‘seed’ of the other”[iii]. Essentially, the yin-yang symbolizes two polar opposites who are constantly in motion (represented by the S-shaped line) and contain within them their opposite. You cannot have the positive without the negative, the good without the bad, warmth without cold but within good there is evil and within evil there is good. This sums up Yubaba and Zeniba, there is a small seed of good in Yubaba and a small seed of evil in Zeniba but they are constantly together, unable to be separated thus creating two opposing identities.

End Notes

[i] “yin, n.1”. OED Online. March 2014. Oxford University Press. (accessed April 11, 2014).

[ii] “yang, n.”. OED Online. March 2014. Oxford University Press. (accessed April 11, 2014).

[iii] “yin, no.1”. OED Online.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: