the online database of Japanese folkore

Baku


ばく

Translation: none; based on the Chinese name for the same creature
Habitat: deep in thick forests
Diet: bad dreams

Appearance: The baku is a strange, holy beast that has the body of a bear, the head of an elephant, the eyes of a rhinoceros, the tail of an ox, and the legs of a tiger. Despite their monstrous appearance, baku are revered as powerful forces of good and as one of the holy protectors of mankind.

Behavior: Baku watch over humans and act as guardian spirits. They feed on the dreams of humans—specifically bad dreams. Evil spirits and yōkai fear baku and flee from baku-inhabited areas. Because of this, health and good luck follow baku wherever they go.

Interactions: The baku’s written name and image have been used as symbols of good luck in talismans and charms throughout Japanese history. In the old days, it was common to embroider the kanji for baku onto pillows in order to keep away bad dreams, sickness, and evil spirits. Fearsome baku images are commonly carved into the pillars above temple doors and on the columns supporting temple roofs. Baku are one of only a handful of holy creatures honored in this manner.

Origin: Legend has it that when the world was new and the gods were making the animals, the baku was put together from the leftover bits and pieces at the end of creation. That explains its bizarre appearance, and why it is considered a favorite of the gods.

Today, the Japanese word baku also refers to the tapir. The animal was named for its uncanny resemblance to this holy chimerical beast.

Alphabetical list of yōkai