First appearing in Chinese folklore and eventually chronicled in Japanese Shinto mythology, the Baku is considered to be a generally benevolent creature, which stalks the dream-scape, devouring the evil demons that cause nightmares.
This creature is described as having the visage of a lion, the flank and torso of a horse, the paws and razor sharp claws of a tiger and the tail of an ox – a depiction that is not entirely unlike that of the Japanese SIN-YOU or the Chinese BO. Other descriptions also include the trunk of an elephant and (bizarrely enough) the eyes of a rhinoceros.
There are two known ways to invoke the assistance of a Baku. The first is considered a sort of preemptive strike, in which the individual asks for protection prior to slumber. The second, and more powerful invocation, can be made directly following a bad dream. All one has to do is say aloud: “Baku, eat my dreams.” According to Shinto legend, the Baku will promptly consume the evil entity responsible for these nocturnal terrors and bestow good fortune upon whoever has called out to him.
While this animal is obviously steeped in Japanese folkloric traditions, a few fringe academics have suggested that the Baku may be an ancestral memory of a large feline predator which might once have prowled the rural regions of China.
They further indicate that after these creatures had become extinct, their lingering memory may have taken on the more extraordinary aspects of the Baku and – in much the same way the eastern dragon is revered rather than feared – what once may have been a ruthless predator has been transformed into a valiant protector of the night.