Monster of the Week: O-dokuro (おどくろ)

Imagine walking around on an old battlefield in Japan around sundown, the wind is blowing through your hair, the eerie silence is piercing your bones and suddenly you hear a rattling sound. You feel a chill run down your spine as you turn around to face a giant skeleton. Congratulations, you have encountered an O-dokuro (おどくろ), or giant skeleton and with no shelter to hide in, it will probably be your last encounter ever.

O-dokuro in the mist

O-dokuro in the mist

 

What is the O-dokuro?

The O-dokuro is a spectre that mostly appears at night in areas where a lot of corpses have been left to rot. An old battlefield or an area that was used for genocide is the ideal location for an O-dokuro.  Because these bodies were denied a proper burial ritual, they were reanimated as a vengeful spirits. When 100 of these spirits came together, the powerful energy that was released formed a giant and especially hungry skeleton. It can also appear in a location where a lot of people are infuriated, sad or feel neglected.

This monster has different forms. The first form is just a giant skeleton but the second form is a skeleton made out of parts of innumerable other skeletons.

The tale of the O-dokuro or Gashadokuro is more than a 1.000 years old and the most famous depiction of it is Kuniyoshi Utagawa’s “Mitsukuni Defying the Skeleton Spectre” (相馬の古内裏).

Kuniyoshi Utagawa’s “Mitsukuni Defying the Skeleton Spectre”

Kuniyoshi Utagawa’s “Mitsukuni Defying the Skeleton Spectre”

 

What does the O-dokuro do?

Hungry for more bones so it can grow even bigger, the O-dokuro hunts for people. It mostly hunts on two legs but if it wants to go faster, it gets down on all fours and chases everyone down who is near him. Once it catches its prey, it devours the skin, guts and all the other soft parts. Afterwards it takes the freshly flayed-clean bones and attaches them to its own body. The O-dokuro is always looking for more bones and loves to feast on human flesh.

Attack on O-dokuro!!

Attack on O-dokuro!!

 

How can you escape?

Here’s the problem, it’s actually very difficult to escape the O-dokuro. Once it has chosen its prey, it will do everything to catch it. Your best chance is to find a suitable hide-out where it can’t find you and wait until the sun comes up. But even then, you might be in danger. The O-dokuro can partially disassemble itself to reach into places that are too small for it to enter, so make sure that your hide-out is chosen wisely.

Statue at the Mizuki Shigeru Museum in Sakaiminato

Statue at the Mizuki Shigeru Museum in Sakaiminato

 

Can the O-dokuro be killed?

Being practically invulnerable, it’s impossible to kill the O-dokuro. Its size and invulnerability makes the O-dokuro a very strong opponent but due to the amount of bodies that are required to form an O-dokuro, this monster is very rare in the modern age. During its life, it constantly burns up the maleficent energy that was created when it was born. Once this energy is burned out, the O-dokuro will disappear and stop existing.

 

Drawing by Mjx20 at Deviantart (http://mjx20.deviantart.com/)

Drawing by Mjx20 at Deviantart (http://mjx20.deviantart.com/)

O-dokuro in the popular culture

Even though the occurrence of O-dokuro is rare, they still are depicted in Japan’s popular culture. They are often used as a motif in tattoo’s and prints on silk jackets. In the famous Studio Ghibli’s animated film “Pompoko”, a clan of shapeshifting tanuki (タヌキa raccoon dog with magical powers that we will tell you about in future articles) shift into an O-dokuru to scare away the people who threaten their home.

 

O-dokuro in the Studio Ghibli film "Pompoko"

O-dokuro in the Studio Ghibli film “Pompoko”

Just remember, don’t try to visit an ancient battlefield in Japan when it’s dark, you might just become part of giant, vengeful skeleton for the rest of your life. If you do decide to visit a place like that, make sure there is a good hide-out, otherwise you’ll be skeleton food.

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