Japan is known for its hungry ghosts, yurei who come back to haunt those who have wronged them or come back to fulfill some unfulfilled purpose before they can move on. In the last post, we had the Manekute no Yurie or the beckoning hand that appears sticking out of empty rooms, and will only go away once its wants are fulfilled or someone reads it some sutras. However, the the Manekute no Yurei is a fairly benevolent ghost despite its hunger. Hunger can be an extremely powerful force especially when put into the perspective of starvation and famine, and that’s where tonight’s ghostly story comes from. The Gashadokuro is the hungriest ghost of all and one of the most dangerous of the yurei who walk the darkened streets of Japan. You definitely don’t want to meet this one, but if you do there’s only one thing you can do…..run.
The name Gashadokuro is a bit of an onomatopoeia, referring to the sound of boney jaws grinding or clacking together, a sound that is described as gachi gachi in Japanese. There’s also an alternate name that is sometimes used, the Odokuro or “giant skeleton”. Clocking in at 90 feet tall, or 15 times the size of an average human, this colossal skeleton wanders the countryside searching for its next victim. To make matters worse, they are completely invisible before they strike, the only warning being a ringing in your ears or the sound of their boney jaws grinding together. Typically they start their wandering at or after midnight, and when they do manage to catch someone unawares, they bite off their heads and suck the blood from their bodies.
So what are the origins of this hungry ghost? Well, it is thought that the Gashadokuro is created from the amalgam of all the negative energy generated from mass graves and deaths from famine and starvation. It is said that the bones of these victims begin to knit together to form the massive skeleton of the Gashadokuro, all of the negative energy from those dead bodies acting like a battery keeping it alive. While this yurei is pretty much indestructible, once that energy is all spent, they tend to just fade away, but as they’re made from the cumulative negative energy of mass graves, it tends to take awhile for that to happen.
Another origin points to a story that takes place 1000 years ago during a bloody rebellion against the central Japanese government by a samurai names Taira no Masakado. In the course of the rebellion, his daughter who was a powerful sorceress from all accounts, took up his cause after he was killed. Using her magic, she summoned a giant skeleton to attack the city of Kyoto. It is said that this skeleton still wanders Japan as the Gashadokuro today. However, other historical accounts say that she just summoned many small skeletons, and the artist of the famous painting that depicted this battle in the famous print Utagawa Kuniyoshi (see above) just combined all the skeletons together into one large one for a more powerful effect.
The Gashadokuro has popped up in pop culture quite a few times. One of my favorite appearances has to be from Anthony Bourdain’s comic Hungry Ghosts. Not only because the title is so fitting for this particular yurei legend, but because the combination of story and art makes a huge impact that really gets across the pretty terrifying nature of the Gashadokuro as well as the sad nature of its origins. The story is called “The Starving Skeleton” and is the first in the series of ghost stories we see from this comic. It tells of the life of a ramen shop owner in Japan. One night, a starving homeless man comes into his shop begging for food. THe man makes the mistake of denying him anything and closes down his store for the night like normal. On his way home, he hears the sound gachi-gachi, gachi-gachi behind him, getting closer. He tries to make a run for it, but it’s too late. The Gashadokuro scoops him up, tears off his head, and drinks his blood. It becomes not only a story of terror but of empathy for those who are homeless and starving, morphing into a cautionary tale for all those who choose to not help those in need.
The Gashadokuro makes another appearance in a Western comic: Wayward by Jim Zub and Steve Cummings. Set in Japan, Wayward draws a lot of inspiration and content from the myths and legends of youkai and yurei. It appears first at the end of chapter 17 and then again for longer in chapter 19. Zub and Cummings designed this skeletal monster to be as tall as a moderate skyscraper and invisible to all who don’t have a connection to the otherworld or who aren’t aware of the supernatural. In chapter 19, his appearance around a crown of people has one girl commenting about the ringing in her ears, but brushes it off as her just being drunk. The Gashadokuro comments that he is drawn to places of great death, a reference to its origin as the cumulative anger of those thrown in mass graves. All in all, his design and appearance are pretty fantastic, and I would recommend checking this comic out if you have the time.
The last appearance of the Gashadokuro that I’ll mention is in GeGeGe no Kitaro episode 8 of the 2018 series. In this one, Mana and two classmates are targeted by the Gashadokuro after one of them knocks over a tombstone. It then proceeds to chase down each person, putting her two classmates in a coma and almost attacking Mana before she is saved by a youkai that can move between mirrors. It is only until the end of the episode that we are finally shown the Gashadokuro, who appears as a giant skeleton who can shoot a laser beam out of one eye. However, we can hear it as it sneaks up on the two boys and chases Mana down the street, that unmistakable gachi-gachi sound of bones rattling. While I don’t necessarily agree with how they framed its origin, revenge for a knocked over tombstone, its design does still reference the old legends and myths, but without the laser beams.
Let me know in the comments below if you know of any other appearances in anime, manga, and comics. I think there are a few more anime references I didn’t get a chance to talk about.
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