A-Yokai-A-Day: Baku

Whew! I had a long day of work today and didn’t get home until 10 pm! Which means that I had to pull an all-nighter to bring you today’s yokai. But the sun hasn’t come up yet, and as far as I’m concerned that means it’s still night and I finished this yokai in time. And I may even be able to catch a few hours of sleep! How appropriate considering today’s yokai:


This is another great yokai that I briefly touched upon in last year’s Hyakki Yako panels. The baku is a kind of chimera originating in Chinese mythology. He supposedly has the body of a bear, the trunk of an elephant, the eyes of a rhinoceros, the tail of an ox, and the paws of a tiger. But its most famous feature is its diet: the baku feeds only on dreams.

From that description it sounds pretty awful, but this is actually a very powerful spirit of goodness. Along with the dragon and the kirin, the baku’s head can be found adorning the pillars supporting shrines and temples. In the olden days baku were also popular netsuke charms: carved ivory or stone figurines that dangled from one’s purse or belt — the forerunners of modern Japan’s cellphone strap craze.

The baku is a protector against pestilence and evil, and among dreams he is said to prefer to devour nightmares, protecting humans from the evil inside them. It is said that if you sleep on a bed made of baku skin, you can keep illness away. That must be where the popular saying comes from: “A baku’s hide a day keeps the doctor away.”

Incidentally, today, the word baku refers to the tapir as well as the magical beast. While some yokai started out as animals (like the kitsune, tanuki, and mujina), some animal names actually originated from yokai!

Sweet dreams!



Don’t forget to visit my Etsy store — you can find prints of last year’s yokai series, as well as my other paintings. 2010’s A-Yokai-A-Day prints will also be made available soon!

2 thoughts on “A-Yokai-A-Day: Baku

  1. Pingback: A-Yokai-A-Day: Kasha | MatthewMeyer.net

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