Each nation has their own mythical stories about supernatural entities, and they sometimes share resemblances and traits with their neighboring areas. When it comes to Japan, their collection of supernatural creatures including ghosts, monsters, and ghouls is remarkably diverse and captivating. Although many paranormal tales mention common creatures like dragons, spirits, mermaids, and demons, Japan stands out by presenting an array of unique monsters that are not found in other cultures. These supernatural beings in Japanese folklore are referred to as “Yokai,” and they possess distinctive personalities, behaviors, and numerous forms.
There is a wide variety of Yokai, with numerous types and subcategories that number in the hundreds. These include legendary creatures, animal-like monsters, ghosts, and even objects. One such Yokai is the Gashadokuro, which belongs to the subcategory of ghosts, known as “Yurei,” in Japanese folklore.
According to folklore, the Gashadokuro are believed to be indestructible and possess the ability to disappear at will. They are often depicted as wrathful and malevolent skeletons.
Gashadokuro Is A Yurei: A Subtype Of Japanese Yokai
The Gashadokuro falls under the Yokai subtype known as Yurei, which are malevolent supernatural beings found in Imperial Japan. Yokai is a term that translates to “bewitching spectres” and encompasses a wide variety of supernatural entities and phenomena in Shinto mythology.
There are numerous species of Yokai, each with their own unique traits and subtypes. Yurei, specifically, vary greatly in their origin stories, appearance, behavior, habitat, and other distinguishing characteristics.
Appearance & Behaviour
According to legend, the spirits of individuals who have passed away but haven’t moved on are believed to be reincarnated as ghosts who wander without purpose, longing for their previous lives. Even after their physical bodies have decomposed, their suffering and distress persist.
As their physical bodies decay, their anger and resentment intensify and transform them into a Gashadokuro, an otherworldly creature. Despite lacking muscles and organic tissue, the skeleton of the Gashadokuro continues to function due to supernatural forces.
Due to the absence of muscles, the Gashadokuro is unable to walk normally and must contort and squirm on the ground as its bones struggle to keep up with its erratic movements.
Furthermore, the Gashadokuro only appears after midnight, emerging from the darkness to seek human blood. They will continue to exist for generations until their suffering diminishes, and there is no way to expedite this process before the Gashadokuro ultimately vanishes.
The word “Gashadokuro” is a Japanese term that can be translated to “starving skeleton” in English. The word is composed of two parts: “gash” and “odokuro.” “Gash” comes from the onomatopoeic word “gachi gachi,” which represents a crunching or rattling sound. “Odokuro” means “skeleton,” and when combined with “gash,” it forms a word that describes a massive, rattling skeleton. The term “odokuro” is also sometimes translated as “huge skeleton.” Because of its origin story, the Gashadokuro is also considered a “hungry skeleton.”
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The Origins Of The Gashadokuro
The Gashadokuro is a surreal representation of a legendary creature that was documented more than a millennium ago. This monstrous skeleton arose during a violent rebellion against the ruling government, which was led by the famed samurai Taira no Masakado.
The Gashadokuro can originate from two sources; the bones of soldiers and victims of past wars left unburied, or from mass deaths caused by famine. Throughout Japan’s history, there were many battles in which soldiers died without proper burial, and many peasants and travelers who died of starvation, especially in poorer areas or due to natural disasters. Both become “hungry ghosts” seeking eternal rest or expressing anger for dying needlessly. This negative energy carries over into the next world, and when combined with their bones, creates a malevolent entity seeking revenge on the living.
In short, the bones of these unfortunate individuals merge, creating the monstrous skeleton of the Gashadokuro. Therefore, this Yokai represents the collective suffering and agony of many individuals who perished in large numbers.
The Gashadokuro is a relentless and virtually unstoppable creature, driven by jealousy and a desire to wreak havoc on humans. No weapon can harm it, and the only ways to escape its wrath are to use a Shinto charm or wait for it to exhaust its anger and collapse.
Places Where Gashadokuro Live
The Gashadokuro typically frequents fields and deserted locations like battlefields, graveyards, and mass graves during the night, but it can appear anywhere and at any time throughout the year.
In addition to its intimidating appearance, the Gashadokuro possesses the ability to become entirely invisible, making it even more threatening.
The only warning of an approaching Gashadokuro is the ringing of bells that can be heard in the victim’s ears just before it strikes.
Therefore, the Gashadokuro will wander the countryside until the hatred and anger inside its bones dissipate.
The Legend Of The Gashadokuro
Taira no Masakado was a samurai and provincial nobleman (gōzoku) from eastern Japan during the Heian era. He was born in the late 8th or early 9th century CE and died in 940.
Masakado is most well-known for leading the initial documented rebellion against the central authority in Kyoto, specifically against Ōya no Mitsukuni. The rebellion was suppressed in 939, and Masakado was defeated and beheaded.
After Masakado’s death, his daughter, Princess Takiyasha, a renowned sorceress, took up his cause. She lived in the ruined shōen, or rural manor-house, of the Sōma clan, which was formerly Masakado’s dwelling.
According to accounts, she summoned a massive skeletal figure to attack Kyoto. Some people believe that this giant skeleton, like the Gashadokuro, still haunts the area, possibly caused by the remains of soldiers who accompanied Masakado to his death.
The story was depicted in a famous woodblock print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861) called “Takiyasha the Witch and Skeleton Spectre,” which is an early artistic representation of a colossal skeleton similar to the Gashadokuro.
Kuniyoshi was known for his artwork portraying historical and mythical themes. One of his pieces depicts Princess Takiyasha from the tenth century summoning a skeleton phantom to attack Ōya no Mitsukuni.
In the artwork, the princess is shown performing a spell from a handscroll to summon the massive skeleton. The Gashadokuro is depicted tearing down a curtain wall and emerging from darkness, threatening Mitsukuni and his companion by thrusting its bony fingers through the torn palace curtains.
Ōya no Mitsukuni and another samurai are depicted below the skeleton, dispatched by the emperor to search for the princess.
Powers & Abilities
When highly provoked, the Gashadokuro’s entire bony structure becomes engulfed in flames. They have long, slender tongues that they use to lap up human blood on occasion.
Commonly portrayed with missing teeth, the Gashadokuro’s massive size means only their spine and above are visible.
Their skull is hollow, but they do possess eyes that may or may not be visible in their eye sockets. These eyes may be depicted as fiery red or erratic, rolling in different directions.
On occasion, the Gashadokuro becomes so incensed that it even attacks other Yokai.
The Gashadokuro considers humans as its food source and it is normal for it to consume their flesh and drink their blood. When it becomes angry, it continues attacking until it has completely drained its victim’s life force. It can also use the bones of its victims to increase its size and become even more menacing. In certain portrayals, the Gashadokuro is shown to create additional skeletal arms to capture its prey.
The Gashadokuro are said to wander the streets after dark, hunting down and attacking lone travelers as revenge for the mistreatment of their remains. The sound of their rattling bones serves as a warning of their approach, causing their victims to hear a loud ringing in their ears. Once they catch their prey, they bite off their heads to drink their blood.
The Gashadokuro shows no mercy if it catches someone off guard. It sneaks up on its victim quietly, seizes them with its skeletal hands, tears off their head, and feeds on the blood spurting from their arteries.
How To Survive A Gashadokuro Attack?
To survive a Gashadokuro attack, the only option is to run and find a safe place to hide until morning, when the creature disappears. However, if the hiding spot is not secure and the Gashadokuro discovers their presence, it will partially dissolve itself and send its bones into the area to kill whoever is hiding there.
Can Gashadokuro Be Overpowered?
Gashadokuro cannot be killed as they are incredibly massive and powerful, and will exist until all the negative energy and malice within their bone structure is consumed. Since it is composed of the bones of deceased humans, the Gashadokuro has the ability to become invisible and indestructible. However, it can be made visible and repelled using Shinto charms. If not warded off, the Gashadokuro will continue to hunt until it has consumed all its anger, and then it will crumble or disappear.
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Are Gashadokuro Real?
The existence of the Gashadokuro is considered a myth, much like other creatures such as unicorns, vampires, and werewolves. The stories of the Gashadokuro are likely the creations of people, and the origins of this tale are not as ancient or credible as believed. According to sources, the first accounts of the Gashadokuro were found in shonen magazines during the 1960s. Shonen magazines are publications that feature manga for a male audience, typically between the ages of 8 and 18.
Descriptions and illustrations of the Gashadokuro also started appearing in Yokai encyclopedias, which were articles written during the Meiji era by Saito Ryokuu, a Japanese author. Shigeru Mizuki, a renowned writer and manga artist who specialized in creating stories about Yokai, including the Gashadokuro, contributed to the popularity of these creatures. Through his publications and work, more people learned about different Yokai, including the Gashadokuro.
Gashadokuro Existence In Pop Culture
In various animated works, Gashadokuro appears as a character or is briefly shown. The animated film “Pom Poko” has a ghost parade that briefly features a Gashadokuro, while “Hellboy: Sword of Storms” has a Gashadokuro emerge from a cemetery along with other evil beasts. In the anime “Inu x Boku SS,” one of the characters can transform into a Gashadokuro, which glows with a violet aura and is shown to eat often, hinting at its origin. The manga series “Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan” also features a villainous Gashadokuro named Gashadokuro, with one eyeball and a hunched appearance.
Video games feature the Gashadokuro more frequently than other mediums as it serves as an excellent antagonist to fight against, both visually and in terms of the storyline. For instance, Muramasa: The Demon Blade portrays it as the final boss. The game Castlevania by Konami has also featured the Gashadokuro several times under the name “Giant Skeleton.” Additionally, the video game AdventureQuest Worlds has its version of the Gashadokuro, called “O-Dokuro.”