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Baku

The Baku is a creature from Japanese lore that devours nightmares.

The baku is a benevolent creature, working with humans and depending upon them for its food. The creature was described as early as the 14th century. It is sometimes described as being from China, and the myths do seem to originate from this country. The baku’s features are not consistent throughout time, sometimes giving the creature horns, the body of a horse, or the eyes of a rhinoceros. It does consistently feature the feet, and sometimes specifically the claws, of a tiger; the trunk of an elephant; and tusks. This composite creature resembles the tapir, so much so that the name is given to both the supernatural and the zoological creature. Modern representations of the baku make it indistinguishable from its mundane namesake.

The baku can be called upon by a person to help deal with nightmares. A baku can be called upon before one goes to sleep, either verbally or through the use of talismans or images of the creature. A person can also invite a baku to eat a nightmare after they wake up. The baku is thought to devour not only the offending dream, but the spirit that brought it, preventing further nightmares. In some stories, the baku may eat someone’s dreams without invitation. This can be troublesome, as an uninvited baku may eat all of the person’s dreams, depriving them of sleep.

Similar to Native American dreamcatchers, the image of the baku can be used to ward off evil dreams as well, be it through drawings, kanji, architectural incorporation, or even toys or dolls of the creature, and can be placed either in the bedroom, in particular under the pillow, or even hung outside the house. This practice became prominent in the Edo period, between 1603 and 1868, and continues today. The baku has also become tied to the Treasure Boats of the Seven Lucky Gods, which has the kanji for “baku” written on the sail. An image of this boat or of the baku is placed under the pillow on the night before the new year begins. It is believed that a good dream that night will ensure good fortune for the year. This is an extension of the belief that if a baku eats bad dreams, they will be transformed into good luck.

The modern tapir-like baku appears in several guises. One of the most popular instances in Western civilization is the Pokémon Drowzee, a yellow and black creature that looks like a bipedal tapir, with the power to eat dreams. They are becoming increasingly common in manga, animation, and video games.