Sunday, October 5, 2008

Baku (spirit)

are Japanese supernatural beings that devour dreams and nightmares. They have a long history in Japanese folklore and art, and more recently have appeared in Japanese anime and manga .

The Japanese term ''baku'' has two current meanings, referring to both the traditional dream-devouring creature and to the zoological tapir . In recent years, there have been changes in how the baku is depicted.

History and Description

The traditional Japanese nightmare-devouring baku originates in Chinese folklore and was familiar in Japan as early as the Muromachi period . Hori Tadao has described the dream-eating abilities attributed to the traditional baku and relates them to other preventatives against nightmare like the use of amulets. Kaii-Yōkai Denshō Database, citing a 1957 paper, and Mizuki also describe the dream-devouring capacities of the traditional baku.

An early 17th century Japanese manuscript, the ''Sankai Ibutsu'' , describes the baku as a Chinese mythical chimera with an elephant’s trunk, rhinoceros eyes, an ox tail, and tiger paws, which in belief protected against pestilence and evil, although eating nightmares was not included among its abilities. However, in a 1791 Japanese wood-block illustration, a specifically dream-destroying baku is depicted with an elephant’s head, tusks, and trunk, with horns and tiger’s claws. The elephant’s head, trunk, and tusks are characteristic of baku portrayed in classical era Japanese wood-block prints and in shrine, temple, and netsuke carvings. Writing in the Meiji era, Lafcadio Hearn described a baku with very similar attributes that was also able to devour nightmares.

Since the 1980s in manga, anime, and other forms of popular culture, the baku appears not as a chimera of an elephant and tiger but as a zoologically recognizable tapir. Examples include Takahashi Rumiko's manga ''Urusei Yatsura'' and Mikimoto Haruhiko's manga ''Marionatte Generation'' , and in anime, Oshii Mamoru’s 1984 film about Lum, ''Beautiful Dreamer''. Such baku also appear in Pokémon and Digimon . "Baku" is a main character in the Playstation 2 game Dual Hearts, characterized as a "pig" that eats dreams. However, not all modern baku/yumekui are tapirs . In Satoshi Kon’s 2007 animated film “,” Paprika, a young woman who is kami of the Dreamtime, is a baku/yumekui who devours a dream-villain at the film’s climax. Hakase Mizuki's 2007 manga ''Ba_ku'' and Shin Mashiba's 2008 manga ''Nightmare Inspector: Yumekui Kenbun'' are also about baku/yumekui who are not tapirs. The Playstation game FFIX features a character named Baku who resembles a pig.

Dream-eating, tapir-shaped baku have also entered non-Japanese popular culture. The picture book "The Dream Eater" by Christian Garrison tells the story of a young boy, Yukio, who meets a baku and brings it to his village . Neil Gaiman’s "The Dream Hunters,” which is based on Japanese mythology, features baku. A video game featuring a dream-eating tapir also exists .

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