Mostly translated from 飯食わぬ女房. Although, in some variations, Yamanba does not become a spider.
Long ago there lived a man named Kansuke. He was a miserly cooper and wouldn’t even go drinking unless someone else paid. When people told him to get a wife, he would say, “I only want a wife who doesn’t eat anything.”
One evening near the end of the year, a knock came at the cooper’s door. A voice said,
“Good evening, good evening. Is there a man here who wants a wife who doesn’t eat anything?”
“Yes, that’s me…why?”
Kansuke thought someone must be making fun of him. But when he opened the door he saw an astonishingly beautiful woman standing there. She gave Kansuke a small smile and said, “I am a woman who doesn’t eat anything. Please allow me to be your wife.”
Kansuke was taken aback. She must be teasing me, he thought, a woman this beautiful would never want to be my wife. Kansuke refused. But the woman would not go away and kept asking to be his wife. Finally Kansuke gave in and let her in his house.
The woman said her name was Satsuki. She was a lovely, hard-working, considerate woman. And just as she had said, food never passed her lips. She would delicately sip water while Kansuke ate.
“Are you sure you’re ok without food?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied smiling. Satsuki soon became the talk of the town.
“She’s beautiful and a hard worker. Kansuke has a wonderful wife.” When Kansuke heard people saying those things, he became very happy.
“And she doesn’t eat either!” he thought happily to himself.
She truly was the woman of his dreams. But somehow the rice supply in his pantry was rapidly shrinking along with his miso supply.
Kansuke couldn’t understand how this was possible.
So one day, Kansuke only pretended to go to work. Instead, he hid in the rafters to spy on Satsuki. It wasn’t long before Satsuki came out to fetch some water. She placed a large pot of water over the fire, poured in rice, and began to boil it. She scooped miso out of the miso jar and began to make a large pot of miso soup on the other side of the fire.
“What is she going to do with so much food?” Kansuke wondered.
The amount of rice she was making was way more than one person could eat. She took the rice and began making 33 onigiri rice balls and placing them on a large plate. When she finished, she turned so her back was facing the plate and untied her hair. It began to wave in the air as if it were alive. It slithered like a snake and seized an onigiri and brought it to the back of her head. From the back of her head a large mouth opened and began eating the onigiri. Then the hair grabbed the pot of miso soup and the mouth began to gulp it down. It chewed and gulped until all the food was gone.
When the mouth in the back of her head was finished eating, Satsuki retied her hair and cleaned up as though nothing had happened. Kansuke sat in the rafters shaking.
“That woman is not human, I have to get her out of my house!”
Kansuke climbed down from the rafters when Satsuki wasn’t looking and waited for the right time to appear as though he had just returned home from work. He said to Satsuki, “You certainly are a woman who doesn’t eat anything, but you aren’t a good match for me. I’ll do anything you want, just please leave.” Satsuki stared at Kansuke’s face for a while and then finally said, “I understand. I will leave, so please make me a large barrel.”
Kansuke thought, well that’s an easy enough request for a cooper, and made a barrel large enough that a whole man could fit inside.
“Ah, it’s the perfect size.” Satsuki said contentedly. And suddenly, she grabbed Kansuke by the neck and stuffed him in the barrel.
“Aaaaaaah!” cried Kansuke.
Satsuki transformed into Yamanba.
“My children are hungry and waiting in the mountains,” she said while pounding the lid in place. She heaved the barrel onto her back and began to run.
Kansuke was knocked about as she ran and he knew he might not have long left to live. In his hand he still held a barrel hoop. He used it to pry open the lid of the barrel. He was terrified but slowly raised his head under the lid. Yamanba’s legs had transformed into spider legs and she was rapidly ascending the mountain path. Kansuke leaned out of the barrel and grabbed hold of a tree branch overhanging the path. He was lifted out of the barrel.
The giant spider-shaped woman did not notice the change, and continued to carry the now empty barrel deep into the mountains.
(Some versions end here without Yamanba changing into a spider form.)
Kansuke ran down the mountain. When he got home, he shut and barred the door. He heard a voice calling from the mountain,
“Kansukeeee, Kansukeeee, I will come for you on New Year’s Eve.”
Kansuke collapsed onto the earthen floor.
The days passed and eventually New Year’s Eve arrived.
Kansuke had spent the previous day nailing down the doors and windows so that no one could enter from outside. He held a kettle in his hand and sat in front of the fire.
A small fire was heating a pot of miso soup. When he got hungry he crammed his mouth with rice balls and drank miso soup.
Suddenly, he heard a sound outside. Kansuke gripped the kettle.
He heard a heavy knocking at the door.
The nails on the door begin to shriek under the strain.
It was the giant spider.
After repeatedly battering the door, the giant spider began hitting the walls and pushing the support beams, making the house creak terribly. Mud and dust fell in great clumps from the roof.
After a while, all was silent. Kansuke peered around his house. There was no sound anywhere.
He looked down relieved, and saw something red reflected in the water he was holding. It was a reflection of the spiders’ eyes.
Kansuke did not let on that he had seen the spider, but added coal to the fire. He built it to a roaring flame of great height.
The giant spider was above the trammel. The fire got so high, the giant spider was burned by the flame and fell into the fire.
It waved its arms and legs wildly, but soon stopped moving and was burned to a crisp. Kansuke was finally safe from the giant spider.
As he gazed at the burned spider Kansuke thought to himself,
“I don’t need a wife that doesn’t eat. A normal one is fine.”