Baku (獏 or 貘) are strange supernatural entities, described as a mash up of creatures, and referred to as “The spare pieces of animals, left over after the gods created everything” and as such, are a combination of many parts. In more recent years, they are believed to be a Tapir, and the word Baku even shares meaning with the animal, but according to traditional beliefs, they are made up of an Elephant’s Trunk, a Rhino’s Eyes, an Ox’s Tail, and Tiger’s Paws. They were originally believed to ward away pestilence and disease, and only later in a carving in 1791, were they depicted to eat dreams.
Writing in the Meiji period, Lafcadio Hearn (1902) described a Baku with very similar attributes that was also able to devour nightmares. People and Children call out to the Shy Baku, and it devours nightmares and bad dreams for them. It seems to have a fondness more for children, as they can call it easier by saying “Baku-san, come eat my dream.” And it would appear to them quickly. One would take heed, calling the Baku often. It is also believed that if one calls the Baku too much, it may get hungrier, and eventually end up eating their hopes, their dreams, and sometimes even their fondest memory.
In the early 1900’s, it was reported that children often slept with Baku talismans, that call the Baku early, as a sort of watchdog for bad dreams. Once it ate them, it would leave, and return the next night, waiting and ready.