Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Gaki

The Gaki is a type of corporeal ghost hailing from Japan, where such spirits are known as yurei. The word gaki itself means "hungry ghost." The Gaki comes into being when a person who was very greedy in life dies or a man who led a sinful life but failed to repent before he passed away. However, the spirit is forced to return to the earthly plane instead of moving on to Heaven or Hell. On the material plane, the Gaki wanders about for eternity, cursed with a hunger for blood that can never be sated.

According to legend, the Gaki is described as having pale skin that is cold to the touch, hollow features, and most significantly, a huge, distended stomach and a narrow neck. In short, the creature bears a striking resemblance to a victim of starvation. This ghost is said to be a shapeshifter, and when attacking, the Gaki takes a humanoid form with red skin, small horns on top of its head, and a long white beard. It also wields a wooden pike as a weapon while in this form.

It should be noted that there are several different species of Gaki, and each one has specific dietary needs. The most dangerous Gaki species feeds only on the flesh, blood, and souls of living humans. Another is said to consume a person's thoughts while they meditate, resulting in the person being irritable and lacking a sense of inner calmness. Others eat samurai topknots, tea, paper, tattoos, sweat, and incense.
Where do the Gaki come from? When a person dies, according to Japanese beliefs, he is reborn or reincarnated as a different creature on another world. There are six courses of rebirth: 1) the person is reborn as a man or a woman in this world, 2) they are reborn as an animal on Earth, 3) the person ascends to Heaven (Gokuraku), 4) they descend to Hell (Jigoku), 5) reincarnated as a shura (short for Ashura, the lowest order of deities and demigods) and suffer through endless battles, and finally 6) they face rebirth as a Gaki in the desolate world of Gakido. In this world, they suffer from unending hunger and agonizing thirst. The Gaki will try to devour everything that they possibly can, including their own children. This is the punishment which will befall all those who have wasted precious food.
The Gaki is as intelligent as it was in life, and the monster revels in the darkness in which it dwells, and uses the blackness of night to aid in its hunt. This hungry ghost lures its prey in by emitting lonely wails, sounding eerily like an injured child or someone who has become hopelessly lost. Those who intend to help eventually find themselves face to face with an undead monstrosity with wickedly sharp teeth and a hunger born out of the very pits of Hell. Once the Gaki has a hold on its prey, it rips and tears at the victim's flesh. It enjoys this act so much that the revenant will even risk harm to itself. Once the victim is dead, the Gaki feasts on the body, savoring every shred of meat and every last drop of blood. But once the creature has finished feeding, the curse immediately comes to bear: the Gaki finds that it is starving to death once again. No matter how many people this ghoul kills, it will always be in agony from hunger and thirst.

In other tales (in which the creature only hungers for fresh blood), it is said that the Gaki's throat is nearly closed from sheer thirst. As such, the monster is only able to swallow a few drops of blood at a time and thus cannot consume enough to keep it's hunger assuaged. In some similar stories, the Gaki craves ordinary food instead of human flesh and blood. However, even if the monster is surrounded by food, the food turns into blood or hot coals as soon as it touches the Gaki's lips. Because of this, it kills out of anger and sheer frustration in such stories.

Due perhaps to its supernatural nature, the Gaki has unnatural strength and is a very persistent foe. The monster has the ability to shapeshift, often taking the form of a mist, various animals, and even impersonating living people. But while in the latter form, the Gaki's true nature can be discovered with a single touch: the creature's skin is cold and bloodless. But while it is in the form of a mist, the monster cannot be hurt except by weapons forged especially for inflicting harm on ghosts. It is believed that the ghost doesn't have to physically manifest itself to feed, as it is thought that merely being near the creature can drain one's blood away.

Even though it is difficult to even harm the creature, the Gaki does have a handful of vulnerabilities. When it attacks, the ghost goes into a kind of maddened frenzy, during which it fixates on its prey and moves about in a seemingly random manner. While in this state, the Gaki leaves itself open to attacks. It also talks to itself incomprehensibly, which can prove to be distracting to the hunter. But because of the difficulty in destroying this creature, it is perhaps best to drive it off. Rituals and prayers performed Shinto priests or Buddhist monks may accomplish this. Stamping scrolls with the Buddha's image and placing them around one's home will prevent the Gaki from entering. One may prevent an attack by following the example of zen monasteries: making a small offering of food to the ghost before eating one's own meal.

As for actually destroying the Gaki? Some sources say that it is possible to do so, but it is not an easy task. As mentioned earlier, a weapon made especially for harming ghosts (perhaps a sword or some kind of edged weapon) may be used against the monster. However, this must be done while the Gaki is in a state of physical manifestation, as it cannot be completely destroyed while in it's incorporeal state. And again, as mentioned previously, it may be attacked while in a frenzied condition. While it will be difficult to strike the Gaki and defend oneself from the monster's own attacks, the Gaki will make no attempt to defend itself. Once the creature has been dealt with, the body must be burned to ashes and scattered to the four winds.

Sightings or reports of the Gaki are something of a rarity today, possibly due to modern burial practices (like cremation) and traditional Japanese funerary rituals. However, that doesn't mean that these hungry ghosts aren't still out there in the darkness, waiting for it's next meal...


Bane, Theresa. Actual Factual Dracula: A Compendium of Vampires. Randleman, NC: NeDeo Press. Copyright ©2007 by Theresa Bane.

Maberry, Jonathan. The Vampire Slayers’ Field Guide to the Undead. Doylestown, Pennsylvania: Strider Nolan Publishing. Copyright ©2003 by Jonathan Maberry.

Maberry, Jonathan. Vampire Universe. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp. Copyright ©2006 by Jonathan Maberry.


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