Gashadokuro: The Starving Skeleton Japanese Yokai

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The Gashadokuro (がしゃどくろ / 餓者髑髏) appear in Japanese folklore as skeletal ghosts fifteen-times-the-size-of-a-normal-person.

They are claimed to be invincible, also having the power to become unseen at any time. The Gashadokuro are often described as wicked and enraged skeleton monsters.

Legend has it that Gashadokuro represent the revived skeleton bones of the soldier’s ghosts who died in battle but were never buried.

Other claims held that they emerged from the victims who lived in the poorer areas of Japan and who perished because of famine.

These persons were rarely accorded adequate burial ceremonies.

As a result, when the bones of hundreds of victims merge into one mass, they compose the monstrous skeleton of Gashadokuro.

Hence, the Gashadokuro is the result of mass mortality and the accumulation of hundreds of people’s agony.

Description of Gashadokuro

It is said that the souls of those who died, unable to pass on, are reborn as ghosts, roaming aimlessly and yearning for their lost lives. Their anguish and pain endure long after their flesh has rotted away from their bones.

Their rage festers into a grudge as their flesh disintegrates. This anger changes them into a supernatural entity roaming the earth in the form of a Gashadokuro.

Without the support of muscles or organic tissue, the skeleton of the Gashadokuro remains connected and functional through supernatural means.

However, its lack of musculature stops the Gashadokuro from walking normally. Gashadokuro continually twists and wriggles on the ground as its bone ensemble strives to keep up with its irregular movements.

Moreover, the Gashadokuro roam only after midnight, emerging from the shadows of gloom in search of human blood.

They will live on for generations after their “birth” until their anguish subsides, and this is not a process that can be accelerated before the Gashadokuro’s eventual disappearance.

The Origins of the Gashadokuro

The Gashadokuro is, in fact, a surreal depiction of a mythological being, first recorded over 1000 years ago.

The monstrous skeleton emerged during a bloody uprising against the central authority, led by a legendary samurai named Taira no Masakado.

Taira no Masakado and His Daughter

Taira no Masakado was an eastern Japanese Heian era provincial nobleman (gōzoku) and samurai. He was born in the late eighth or early ninth centuries CE and died in 940.

Taira no Masakado is best known for leading the first recorded rebellion against Kyto’s central authority, Ōya no Mitsukuni.

The rebellion was stifled in 939. Taira no Masakado was defeated and eventually decapitated.

It was Takiyasha-hime, Masakado’s daughter, a famed sorceress that carried up his cause after he was slain for his rebellion.

Princess Takiyasha remained to live at Masakado’s former dwelling, the ruined shōen, or rural manor-house, of the Sōma clan.

The accounts go on telling that she summoned a giant skeletal figure to strike Kyoto.

Some folks say that the giant skeleton continues haunting the region.

The apparition of the Gashadokuro in this historical instance may have been caused by the remains of the soldiers that accompanied Masakado to his death.

The storey was depicted in a famous woodblock artwork by an artist named Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798–1861). The title of this woodblock is “Takiyasha the Witch and Skeleton Spectre”. It shows an early artistic portrayal of a colossal skeleton, such as the Gashadokuro.

Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre

Or Mitsukuni Defying the Skeleton Spectre Invoked by Princess Takiyasha ( 相馬の古内裏 妖怪がしゃどくろと戦う大宅太郎光圀 )

Kuniyoshi was well-known for his portrayals of historical and mythical themes. One of the portrayals depicts the tenth-century princess Takiyasha calling a skeleton phantom to terrorise Ōya no Mitsukuni.

The princess enacts a spell from a handscroll in the image, summoning a colossal skeleton. The depiction shows how the Gashadokuro tears a curtain wall apart, rearing from a black obliviousness and slamming its bony fingers through the tattered palace curtains, threatening Mitsukuni and his companion.

Ōya no Mitsukuni and another samurai are shown beneath the beast, dispatched by the emperor to search down the princess.

The Race of Gashadokuro

The Gashadokuro is classified as a ghost in the Yokai subtype, which the Japanese refer to as Yurei, a race of malevolent yokai found during Imperial Japan.

The term Youkai/Yokai/Yōkai (alternatively spelt “Yaoguai” in Chinese pinyin, the source of the Japanese word) literally means “bewitching spectres”. Therefore, the Yokai represent a vast array of numerous supernatural entities or phenomena that appear in Shinto mythology.

There are hundreds of different Yokai species, each with its own distinct type and subtype.

The species that belong under the Yurei subclass vary significantly in terms of their origin tales, appearance, behaviour, habitat, and other peculiar characteristics.

The Gashadokuro is a distinctive Yokai in these respects, and here’s why.

Characteristics

When the Gashadokuro is particularly angered, its entire skeletal frame lights up with fire. They also have sleek, extended tongues with which they sweep up human blood on occasion.

Oftentimes the Gashadokuro are depicted with several teeth missing.

Only the spinal cord and upwards are ever visible due to their immense size.

The inside of his skull is hollow, but the Gashadokuro have eyes, too. However, the pair of eyes may or may not be seen in the sockets of their skull. These eyes may be depicted as crimson, lit with fire, displaced, with each iris pointing in a different direction, constantly rolling around.

At times, a Gashadokuro is so angered that it is said to even go after other Yōkai.

Gashadokuro’s Sustenance

Gashadokuro regards humans as food, and it is only natural that he consumes what is contained within his body, frequently drinking their spraying blood. Once enraged, he will not stop until his victims’ life energy has been drained.

It then increases its body, assembling its victim’s bones, making it even larger and more terrifying.

In some depictions, to catch his prey, the Gashadokruo can create more skeletal arms.

Modern Depictions

The contemporary interpretations are based on Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s 1844 ukiyo-e print.

The first realistic depictions of the Gashadokuro as a massive skeleton in paper date back to the Shōwa era (1926 – 1989).

Gashadokuro yokai first appeared in print by shōnen magazine authors from 1960-1970 and illustrated yokai monsters’ encyclopedias.

  • Shigeaki Yamauchi’s World’s Bizarre Thriller Complete Works 2: World’s Monsters included it for the first time (Akita Shoten, 1968).
  • It was also included in Satō Aribumi’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Japanese Yokai, published in 1972, and later in Shigeru Mizuki’s well-known series Gegege no Kitarō, published in 1985.

Satō Aribumi and Shigeru Mizuki are said to have been influenced by Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s ukiyo-e print.

Morihiro Saito, a Japanese writer, established the present depiction of Gashadokuro.

While giant skeletons were a fairly popular motif in ancient folktales, the majority of the Gashadokuro’s unique characteristics originate with Saito.

Both Arabumi’s 1972 Illustrated Encyclopedia of Japanese Yōkai and Mizuki’s depiction base the look of the Gashadokuro on the enormous skeleton in Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s ukiyo-e print.

While it was originally described as a collection of life-sized skeletons, Kuniyoshi portrayed it as a single massive skeleton, as is typical of his work.

Etymology

Gashadokuro from Kanji: 餓者髑髏 , literally translates as “starving skeleton”, where 餓者 signifies “starving” and “髑髏” means “skeleton”—also known by 大髑髏, or O-dokuro, which directly translates to “huge skeleton”.

One of its base words is an onomatopoeia compounded with a definitive noun. Accordingly, “Gash” is derived from the onomatopoeic Japanese term “gachi gachi” which refers to a crunching, grinding, or rattling sound.

By combining it with the noun “odokuro,” a set of terms encompassing its fundamental meaning: a rattling, massive skeleton, is given. Due to its original narrative, it can also be interpreted as a “hungry skeleton”.

Questions About Gashadokuro

How can someone spot a Gashadokuro’s presence?

Because of the citizenry’s desire for vengeance, the Gashadokuro prowl the streets after midnight, catching lone travellers and biting off their heads to suck their blood.

Their approach is signalled by the sound of rattling bones.

As a result of the predator’s bone-rattling, the victim will hear a loud ringing in their ear, warning them of their impending attack.

What happens if a person is attacked by the Gashadokuro?

If someone happens to be taken by surprise by the Gashadokuro, there will be no remorse.

The Gashadokuro approaches its target softly, grasps them with its bony hands, bites off their head, and drinks the blood spraying from the victim’s arteries.

How can one escape Gashadokuro’s attack?

If someone hears a Gashadokuro, their only chance of survival is to run to a safe spot and hide until daybreak, when the monster will vanish.

If their hiding place is not secured and the Gashadokuro detects them there, it will partially disintegrate itself, sending bones into those areas and murdering whoever hides there.

Can a Gashadokuro be killed?

Gashadokuro are too huge and powerful to kill, and hence they live, until all of the energy and malice stored in their bone mass is gone.

Due to its composition of previously departed humans’ bones, the Gashadokuro possesses invisibility and indestructibility.

Shinto charms are said to make them visible and thus ward them away.

Otherwise, the Gashadokuro will hunt until it has devoured all of its rage, crumbling to the ground or vanishing in the nothingness.

Where is does the Gashadokuro dwell?

The Gashadokuro prefers to roam fields at night or live in desolate places, such as battlegrounds, cemeteries, or mass graves. However, they can arise anywhere, at any time of the year.

As if being a giant skeleton wasn’t severe enough, the Gashadokuro is entirely invisible before it strikes.

The only way to know a Gashadokuro approach is to hear the sound of bells ringing in one’s ears just before it attacks.

As so, they will roam the countryside until the malice contained within their bodies dissipates.

Additional Information

Because anatomy studies in the Edo era were far less systematic than in Europe, the level of detail and accuracy Kuniyoshi achieved with his Gashadokuro skeleton is remarkable for its day.

Kuniyoshi has owned a copy of “The New Book of Anatomy,” or Kaitai Shinsho, a collection of 40 woodcut scientific illustrations by German physician Johann Adam Kulmus that was translated into Japanese by Edo physician and scholar Sugita Genpaku.

In Popular Culture

The Gashadokuro is a prominent character in modern video games and television shows. The Gashadokuro has recently been credited as the basis for characters such as Railroad Wrath in Cuphead and the Giant Skeletons in Dark Souls.

  • A Gashadokuro appears in the monster march segment of Studio Ghibli’s Pom Poko.
  • Gashadokuro was a significant opponent in the Ninja Sentai Kakuranger “Super Sentai” series. Gashadokuro comes here as a human-sized skeletal sword fighter and yokai commander. He can shift his size at will and is most frequently seen as Junior, a human punk rocker.
  • Gasha-Dokuro initially appears in Saishinban GeGeGe no Kitar, titled “The Return of the Great Yōkai Gasha-Dokuro.” He was born out of the regret of the Aokigahara Forest’s suicide victims.
  • In Adventure Quest Worlds, the Gashadokuro is featured as the forbidden Beast of Chaos called the O-Dokuro. Kitsune uses the Hanzamune Blade to free it from a time rift.
  • Different forms of alien-like skeletons, mantis-like sickles, and lower bodies are featured in the 1985 anime and Saishinban.
  • In Goemon’s Great Adventure, a Gashadokuro is encountered at an early level while on a bridge.

Conclusion

Prior to their appearance in contemporary works or films, the Yōkai and other creatures from Japanese folklore were included in literature dating back to the Middle Ages.

Additionally, they were dubbed Mononoke, which translates as “supernatural person,” while the Kanji (妖 “yō”) in Yōkai translates as “calamity” or “mystery”.

The mythological framework of the Gashadokuro is based on people’s legends that date back more than 1000 years.

Its current upsurge derives from the triptych portrayal, which inspired modern-day depictions and woven urban legends in Japan.

It is frequently used as a basis for a few villains in anime shows or a wicked boss in video games.

Cite This Article

MythBank (October 3, 2022) Gashadokuro: The Starving Skeleton Japanese Yokai. Retrieved from https://mythbank.com/gashadokuro/.
"Gashadokuro: The Starving Skeleton Japanese Yokai." MythBank - October 3, 2022, https://mythbank.com/gashadokuro/
MythBank July 12, 2022 Gashadokuro: The Starving Skeleton Japanese Yokai., viewed October 3, 2022,<https://mythbank.com/gashadokuro/>
MythBank - Gashadokuro: The Starving Skeleton Japanese Yokai. [Internet]. [Accessed October 3, 2022]. Available from: https://mythbank.com/gashadokuro/
"Gashadokuro: The Starving Skeleton Japanese Yokai." MythBank - Accessed October 3, 2022. https://mythbank.com/gashadokuro/
"Gashadokuro: The Starving Skeleton Japanese Yokai." MythBank [Online]. Available: https://mythbank.com/gashadokuro/. [Accessed: October 3, 2022]

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