What is the Baku?

If you’re looking for shows for kids this summer, don’t miss Dragons and Mythical Beasts Live. An exciting adventure filled with fantastic creatures, it takes you on a quest to become a hero and brings you face to face with a unicorn, a griffin and even the Tooth Fairy! At 50 minutes long with no interval, it’s the perfect magical play for children aged three and up.


One magical beast that features in the show is the mysterious baku. With a long history in Chinese and Japanese folklore and art, this strange creature is said to have been made from the leftover parts of other animals when the gods were creating the world. As such, the baku has the body of a bear, the head of an elephant, the legs of a tiger and the tail of an ox. You might think such a fearsome looking creature would be out to harm humans, but the opposite is true: the baku watches over children like a guardian spirit, wandering through the night and feeding on bad dreams, enabling kids to sleep peacefully.


The history of the Baku

The Baku originates in Chinese folklore as early as the 9th century, when the poet Bai Juyi popularised the idea that drawings of a hybrid beast with tiger paws, an elephant’s trunk and a cow’s tail could help to ward off sickness and evil.


In the 14th and 15th centuries the creature appeared in Japanese lore, and was endowed with the ability to devour nightmares. A 17th century manuscript called the Sankai Ibutsu describes the baku as a shy creature, and 18th century woodblock illustrations depict it eating dreams. Around this time, pillows in the shape of a baku could be bought, protecting the sleeper from nightmares.


Over time, it became common for children to have Baku amulets by their beds or under their pillows to stave off bad dreams. By the 20th century, if a Japanese child woke up from a bad dream, they often called to the baku to come and eat it so they could go back to sleep. However, the Baku should only be called for occasionally, as if it is still hungry after eating a nightmare, it can go on to devour hopes and desires as well.


The Baku today

The Baku remains a popular mythical creature today, and has featured in several Japanese comics as well as in Pokémon, in which it takes on a tapir-like appearance. This is because in the Japanese language, the word for baku - ‘kanji’ - is the same as that for the Asian tapir. You can also find a baku in popular author Neil Gaiman’s novella, The Sandman: The Dream Hunters, which is illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano.


If you want to come face to face with a Baku this summer, you can find one in the Dragons and Mythical Beasts Live show. Touring the UK from May to September 2023, it’s packed with fantastic creatures that are sure to capture your imagination. Book your tickets today to avoid missing out.

Image Credit: Robert Day featuring the 2021 touring cast