When looking for inspiration for writing a story and art to draw sometimes the best settings already exist in the world around us which is why today I'm going to explore the folklore of Japan, more specifically of the Niigata prefecture in hopes that this interesting and often overlooked region of Japan will help you in your story telling endeavors.
Throughout the Niigata Prefecture there are tales of encounters with the ghosts of people who froze to death in harsh snow storms and of dangerous spirits seeking to kidnap young woman to be their wives. There are a number of stories of Snow Woman and boys seeking shelter during particularly bitter snow storms at the huts of isolated farmers. In one story a Snow Boy creeps into a house to join a family for dinner, helping himself to some miso and boar soup before running back out into the snow where he leaves no tracks.
In yet another story of a magical being seeking shelter from the cold a Kitsune (fox) in the form of a woman seeks shelter with a farmer. As the story progresses they fall in love and have children together.
There is the sense in these stories not only of a coldness, but of warmth, of closely connected villages, of families and people sheltered against the winter in warm houses with pots of hot soup cooking over hearths. So this harsh winter is contrasted by beauty, especially in Agato where hundreds of swans make their winter home.
Despite the dangers of the spirit world in folklore there were many tales in which magical beings helped humans as well. A river kami gave a wood cutter one of her children to raise so that he could have a child of his own, and this child made the wood cutter very wealthy.
In another story a calico cat helped an old lady become wealthy by turning into a beautiful woman which became a famous singer in far away Edo.
You can read more about the Lore and Setting of Niigata at "Bits of Japanese Folklore"