Episode 22: Dream Eater

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I always think ancient people respect the nature more than we do today that’s why they created so many mythical creatures based on the real animals with imaginations like Shisa the guardian lion dogs are based on lions. Think about if you see a lion the first time in real life, you might be amazed by the creature and imagine they have magical powers especially if you never heard or see about it before.

Today we are going to talk about a mythical creature based on tapirs. Imagine if you see a tapir for the first time and you have no background of biology or science, what kind of power do you think a tapir have? For people who are not familiar with tapir, they have a pig body with a short nose trunk. I guess the special part is their trunk. The mythical animal is called Mengmo梦貘 in Chinese now which means dream tapir. Now you know they are related with dreams and yes they eat dreams with their trunk.

Originally, in Chinese mythology, we call them Mo , which doesn’t have anything to do with dreams. In the book ShuoWenJieZi说文解字, it explains the word Mo as a bear like brown animal. In the book Erya尔雅, Mo is described as a beast eating iron. In the article MoPingZan 貘屏赞by one the most famous poets Bai Juyi 白居易from Tang Dynasty 唐朝, it says Mo is an animal with a trunk of an elephant, eyes of a rhino, a tail of an ox and feet of a tiger, living in the valleys in the south. If you sleep on its hide it helps you avoid diseases and its figures can help you avoid bad luck. Chinese mythical animals or creatures in general are always made up of different real animals in the nature. Really want to know what the ancient Chinese people’s thought about a platypus, which was thought as a hoax by people in the history. As it says in the article, in Tang Dynasty, people like to make bed sheets or seat covers with Mo hide or draw the image of Mo on panel screens.

This myth spread to Japan and it became the dream eater Mengmo or Baku in Japanese. In Neil Gaiman’s Sandman book, Baku is in it. In Japanese mythology, Bake devour dreams especially nightmares. It was first recorded in The Sankai Ibutsu, an illustrated Japanese book from 17th century . This book was supposed to be the illustrated book based on ShanHaiJing山海经, Classic of Mountains and Seas, yes the Chinese book we mentioned so many times, however the Japanese book contains the author’s own imagination and modification in it because Baku cannot be found in the origianl ShanHaiJing. That’s why today in China a lot of people always think Mengmo is from Classic of Mountains and Seas, however, Mengmo is actually a Japanese revised version of Mo from the revised version of Classic of Mountains and Seas.

Although the original Mo has nothing to do with dreams. There is a god named Boqi伯奇 who eats dreams in Chinese mythology, Boqi sounds like Baku in Japanese. It is recorded in the book TangLiuDian唐六典, it says in the Zhou Dynasty 周朝, Boqi’s father was an important person in the government and loved him very much. However after his mother died, his dad remarried. This step mother tried to sabotage him by telling his father Boqi was trying to do some disgraceful things to her. His father believed her and kicked Boqiout of the house. He died not too long after that and became a bird. In the book BaiZeJingGuaiTu 白泽 精 怪图, it says if you had nightmares, in the morning you can face to the northeast and says certain words to Boqi 7 times and you can get rid of your nightmares. So some people say the Japanese mythical creature Baku is a combination of Mo and Boqi. In Japan if a kid had a nightmares she or he can say “ Baku-san come to eat my dream” 3 times and Baku would come and devour dreams.

baku dreams eater from japanese mythical creatures book 2012

However, Baku has a dark side because if he remains hungry after the nightmares he may also eat their hopes and desires. So the calling has to be done sparingly. I think people just make up this part of the story to let the kids to go back to sleep quickly.

In Japan, the images of Baku can be found on pillowcases and the Chinese character Mo can be found on sailboats during Japan’s Edo period which was between the year 1603 ~ 1868 because Mo is a mythical animal that prospects people from bad luck. Baku was also a popular on wood-block prints and in shrine and temples in Meiji period in Japan. You know dream eater is a Pokemon move too. I know in Native American culture, you can hang up a dream catcher, which is a handmade woven web on a hoop decorated with feathers or beads. If the dream catcher doesn’t work for you, maybe try to tell Baku next time. Hope everyone can have sweet dreams.


说文解字 ShuoWenJieZi

尔雅 Erya

唐六典 TangLiuDian

伯奇 Boqi


白居易 Bai Juyi

The Sankai Ibutsu

山海经Classic of Mountains and Seas

梦貘 Mengmo/Baku

白泽 精 怪图 BaiZeJingGuaiTu

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