the online database of Japanese folkore

Gashadokuro

がしゃどくろ

Translation: onomatopoeic; rattling skull
Alternate names: ōdokuro (“giant skull”)
Habitat: any; usually found near mass-graves or battlegrounds
Diet: none, but enjoys eating humans anyway

Appearance: Gashadokuro are skeletal giants which wander around the countryside in the darkest hours of the night. Their teeth chatter and bones rattle with the “gachi gachi” sound of this yōkai’s namesake. But they are not always noisy. If they should happen upon a human out late on the roads, the gashadokuro will silently creep up and catch their victims, crushing them in their hands or biting off their head.

Origin: Soldiers whose bodies rot in the fields and victims of famine who die unknown in the wilderness rarely receive proper funerary rites. Unable to pass on, their souls are reborn as ghosts, longing eternally for that which they once had. These people die with anger and pain in their hearts. That energy remains long after their flesh has rotted from their bones. As their bodies decay, their anger ferments into a grudge against the living, which twists them into a supernatural force. When the bones of hundreds of victims gather together into one mass, they form the humongous, skeletal monster known as the gashadokuro.

Too large and powerful to be killed, gashadokuro maintain their existence until the energy and malice stored up in their bodies has completely burnt out. However, because of the large amount of dead bodies required to form a single one, these abominations are rarer today than they were in the past, when wars and famine were a part of everyday life.

Legends: The earliest record of a gashadokuro goes back over 1000 years to a bloody rebellion against the central government by a samurai named Taira no Masakado. His daughter Takiyasha hime was a famous sorceress. When Masako was eventually killed for his revolt, his daughter continued his cause. Using her black magic, she summoned a great skeleton from the bodies of dead soldiers to attack the city of Kyōto. Her monster is depicted in a famous print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Alphabetical list of yōkai