Dreamcatchers of Japan: Unveiling the secrets of the mysterious baku

When we think about fantastical beasts in popular culture, we typically think of dragon shows or unicorn characters. But there are hundreds of fascinating creatures that feature in folklore across the world. One magical beast that’s not so well-known here in the West, but is pretty famous in Japan, is the baku. This dreamcatcher is still called on by children today to eat up nightmares, but must be summoned with caution. Here’s what we know about this mysterious creature.



The baku is a mythical beast made up of the parts of other animals. It’s usually depicted with the body of a bear, the trunk of an elephant, the paws of a tiger, the tail of an ox and the ears and eyes of a rhinoceros. According to Japanese legend, the creature was created with parts that were leftover after the gods finished making all the other beasts.



The baku is actually thought to have originated in Chinese folklore, which has a tradition of hybrid creatures that are created from the parts of several animals. The Chinese mo has a very similar appearance. It was only in the 14th to 15th century that the baku began to appear in Japanese myth, when it was given the ability to chase away nightmares.


Summoning the baku

Over time, it became customary in Japan to use  amulets in the shape of the baku to stave off bad dreams. By the beginning of the 20th century, children habitually slept with a baku talisman by their bed, and it was said that if you have a nightmare, you can call out to this mythical creature, which will eat the dream. The following phrase must be repeated three times to summon the baku:


“Baku-san, come and eat my dream”


When these words were spoken, the baku was believed to enter the child’s room and devour the bad dream, enabling the child to go back to sleep. However, the creature was not to be summoned lightly. If the baku was still hungry after munching on the nightmare, it could continue to feed on a person’s hopes and dreams, leaving them with an empty and unfulfilled life.


The baku in modern Japan

The baku continues to captivate the Japanese imagination in much the same way as the tooth fairy remains popular here in the West. Occasionally, the creature is now depicted as an Asian Tapir in comics and cartoons, and took on such a form in the Digimon character, Bakumon.


In this way, it entered the Western imagination, and now appears in the Olivier Award-nominated children’s show, Dragons and Mythical Beasts Live, alongside creatures such as the unicorn, troll and dragon. At just 55 minutes with no interval, the production is ideal for kids aged three and up, and features stunning puppetry and lots of interactive moments. To discover a world of breath-taking mythical beasts, book your tickets today.

Image Credit: Robert Day featuring the 2021 touring cast