Gashadokuro: The Scary Starving Skeleton

Countries and cultures around the world are known to have their own supernatural tales, and even share some characteristics and similarities of these legends and entities with their neighboring lands. As for the Japanese, they do have a very interesting and diverse set of ghouls, spirits, and monsters in their personal arsenal of mythological creatures.

While mermaids, dragons, spirits, and demons are a shared idea in paranormal stories, Japan places itself in a category different from the rest with its extremely unique and creative descriptions of monsters, unheard of by other cultures. In Japanese folklore, these supernatural monsters and entities are known as “Yokai”. These Yokai all have different personalities and behaviors and range from a grand multitude of manifestations.

A Piece of the Yokai World: The Gashadokuro

There are hundreds of different Yokai out there, with different types and subtypes. There are legendary beasts, animal monsters, ghosts, and objects. The Gashadokuro (“がしゃどくろ”) falls under the Yokai’s subcategory of a ghost, which the Japanese call “Yurei”.

Characteristics of the Gashadokuro

The kinds of creatures that fall under the Yurei subcategory differ very much from each other in terms of their origin stories, what they look like, how they behave, where they are found, what they consume, and so on. The Gashadokuro is a very special Yokai in these senses, and here is why.

The Gashadokuro Are Giant, Angry, Rattling Skeletons

The Gashadokuro present themselves as enormous, malevolent, and angry skeleton figures that are 90 feet tall; around 15 times bigger than humans. They are supposedly indestructible and can become invisible at will.

The skeleton of the Gashadokuro stays connected and function without any muscles or body tissue; they somehow connect through supernatural means. However, its strange musculature still does not let it properly walk as normal human being would; it is usually bent, wriggled on the floor as its bone collection would try to keep up with its jagged movements.

The skull of the Gashadokuro may or may not be presented to have eyes in its sockets. When they do, these eyes may be illustrated to look deranged (each iris pointing a different direction, constantly rolling around), be colored red, or be lit on fire. It is said that sometimes, the entire skeletal frame of the Gashadokuro lights up with fire when it’s especially enraged. They are also said to sometimes possess a slick, elongated tongue that laps up human blood.

What Is the Gashadokuro Like Towards Humans?

If they happen to chance on a human being minding his/her own business or traveling on a quiet road, rest assured there will be no mercy. These are vicious and vengeful spirits that are out to let their negative energies and savagery flow relentlessly. They don’t have any specific diet, but they love the taste of human blood. The Gashadokuro creeps up behind its victim as silently as possible, grabs him/her with its bony hands, bites its head off, and downs the blood pouring from the major arteries of the neck of the person.

Where are Gashadokuro Found?

The habitat of the Gashadokuro is usually in the countryside, in what was once a battleground, cemeteries, or mass graves. But really - they can really appear anywhere, on any month of the year. They are most likely to show themselves in the peak of night time; after midnight, and are almost undetectable. The only way you’ll realize that a Gashadokuro is near is if you hear its grinding teeth or a strange ringing in your ears. By then, however, it’s probably too late.

The Etymology of “Gashadokuro”

The reason it was named Gashadokuro is that one of its root words is an onomatopoeia, combined with a definitive noun. The “Gash” in Gashadokuro is taken from the onomatopoeic Japanese term “gachi gachi”, which indicates a crunching, grinding, or rattling sound. Add that to its noun (which is also considered its alternative name “odokuro”, which means “giant skeleton”), and you have a combination of terms that make up its essential meaning; a rattling, giant skeleton. It can also be translated to “starving skeleton” because of its origin story.

So How Did the Gashadokuro Come to Be?

There are two ways a Gashadokuro forms; either from forming out of the bones of unburied soldiers and victims of past wars or from mass deaths from starvation. Japan had seen a lot of wars during its ancient history, and in many of these battles, soldiers died and were never properly buried. There were also many peasants and travelers who would die of famine at the time, especially in poorer areas, or in places where they would reap little to no harvest because of natural occurrences and tragedies.

Both would become, figuratively and almost literally, hungry ghosts. Soldiers hunger for eternal rest that they were never given, and those who died of starvation stay angry for dying of something that could have been solved easily, had others not been so selfish. This negative energy that had been with them as human beings would transition into the next world and form something cumulatively wicked (with their bones), to express their angry karmic payback towards those fortunate enough to still be alive.

Out on a mission to wreak havoc among humans who they are bitterly jealous of, the Gashadokuro is almost unstoppable. No weapon works against them. There are only two ways for them to not hurt you: if you successfully ward them off with a Shinto charm (no ghost buster will win against this creature), or if they’ve burned themselves out from expressing their hatred well enough, thus collapsing.

The Legend of the Gashadokuro

No one is sure about how the story of the Gashadokuro came to be, but there is one source that people speculate could be where the tales began. Back in the 10th century in Kyoto, a powerful samurai (Taira no Masakado) rebelled against government forces. He had a daughter named Takiyasha-hime who dabbled in magic and considered herself a sorceress. Because her father was far less powerful than the government, she wanted to protect him and their castle. She used dark magic from a scroll she had and summoned a Gashadokuro that materialized out of a void to charge at Ooya Tarou Mitsukini, the opposing samurai.

Ever since he had been summoned, this skeleton figure supposedly continues to haunt the land. The story of this myth was depicted by an artist called Utagawa Kuniyoshi in a - now very popular - woodblock painting. It is called “Takiyasha the Witch and Skeleton Spectre”.

There has been an argument circulating, saying that this art piece that inspired the story was not related to the Gashadokuro at all, instead insisting that it was independent, found in a Japanese reading book or “yomihon”. Takiyasha-hime was supposed to have summoned many normal-sized skeletons, but the artist, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, used his artistic license to distort this fact by turning “many skeletons” into one giant skeleton – that only so happened to look like a Gashadokuro.

Is the Gashadokuro a Myth?

The Gashadokuro is surely a myth. Just as are other creatures like the unicorn, vampires, and werewolves, the hauntings of the Gashadokuro are accounts woven by people – and it isn’t as ancient or believable a tale as one may be led to think. Sources say that the first tales of the Gashadokuro came as late as the 1960’s, from shonen magazines. A shonen magazine is a published series of magazines full of manga, made for the male demographic, usually around 8 to 18 years of age.

Illustrations and descriptions would also begin to appear in Yokai encyclopedias, usually stemming from articles written during the Meiji era by Saitō Ryokuu. a Japanese author. A notable writer and Manga artist, Shigeru Mizuki, took a liking to Yokai, and specialized in creating stories about them, drawing them, and knowing the different kinds. Because of his publications and work, more people would learn about what the different Yokai were, including the Gashadokuro.

Other Yokai That Are Like the Gashadokuro

There was a collection of setsuwa (a literary genre that pertains to legends, mythical tales, anecdotes, etcetera) from the Heian period called “Nihon Ryōiki”. In that setsuwa, there was a story about a man who hailed from a province called Bingo, which is in what is now known as the Hiroshima Prefecture. This man found himself hearing a voice claiming that its eye was painful. When he turns to see who’s talking, he is faced with a skeleton. Protruding from the eye socket of the skeleton’s skull was a bamboo shoot.

The man takes out this bamboo shoot and lets the skeleton have some of the boiled rice he had cooked. The skeleton then talks about what had happened to him, how he had died, and his story. Because the man was so kind, the skeleton rewarded him. Although the story is similar to the Gashadokuro in the sense that they both have to do with a skeleton and its past grievances, they are in no way linked. This story has roots that go much farther and deeper than the contemporary history of the Gashadokuro.

Pop Culture and the Gashadokuro

The Gashadokuro has made several appearances in pop culture, perhaps because it itself is a relatively new entry into the Yokai realm. Nevertheless, this evil mythical creature is often used as a reference for a few villains in anime shows, or an evil boss in video games.

Anime, TV Shows, Films and Manga Series that Include Gashadokuro

“Pom Poko”, a Studio Ghibli film, briefly shows a Gashadokuro when a ghost parade is held in the middle of the movie. Another example - though it isn’t necessarily an anime show, it is still part of an animated series; is Hellboy: Sword of Storms. It features a Gashadokuro who emerges from a cemetery, which proceeds to let loose evil beasts; many of them Yokai monsters themselves.

The only anime that has been so far recorded to feature a Gashadokuro is “Inu x Boku SS”, where one of the characters (named Karuta Roromiya) can transform into a Gashadokuro herself. It’s known as her “youkai” form, as her newly morphed mythical entity glows with a violet aura. She tends to be shown eating often, hinting at the history of the Gashadokuro being made from the bones of those who once starved.

A manga series known for having a Gashadokuro is Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan (also known as “Nurarihyon no Mago”. He appears in chapter 74. The Gashadokuro here is named Gashadokuro also and is a villain. He one eyeball, and is always hunched down.

Gashadokuro in Video Games

The appearance of the Gashadokuro is more apparent in video games than it is in any other medium, usually, because they make for a great character to fight against both in a visual and plot sense. A few instances where this monster appears is in Muramasa: The Demon Blade, where it serves as a final boss. Then it appears in several instances of Konami’s Castlevania, where it’s named Giant Skeleton. AdventureQuest Worlds also has its own version of the Gashadokuro, named “O-Dokuro”.

Use the Gashadokuro In Your Own Story

The point of myths in literature and folklore is not always just to tell a story of how things were before, but also to give one idea to add to one’s own stories; elements such as plot, archetypes, and so much more could be taken from such legends. Just as video games, television shows, and manga series have added this to their story, so can you – and your creativity and options on how to do this are endless. You can add the Gashadokuro in a short story or novel, or a comic you’re writing about; use it as a metaphor for hunger, or for bitterness over something it feels was unfair that happened in its lifetime.

Get A Tattoo of the Gashadokuro

Looking for a large tattoo idea? Whether you want it inked on your back or on your front abdomen, a cool idea would be a Gashadokuro. You may want to consider this, especially if you’re a fan of Japanese culture, history, and art.

The Gashadokuro is a unique mythical creature that hails from Japan; and though its chance of existing is just about as much as leprechaun or hippogriff, learning about and embracing elements of different cultures through their stories and art connects everyone in an intrinsic, yet global scale.