Eaters of Dreams: The Japanese Baku and the Oscars Academy Award Missteps

Hispanics are big dreamers; eating up every type of dream in all senses of the word.  They dream of a better life. An overwhelming 78% of second-generation Hispanic adults say that they believe hard work pays off in success (Pew Research Center, 2013).  Hispanics believe in the American Dream: Hispanic Americans believe business ownership is the key to harnessing the much sought-after “American Dream” (MassMutual, 2011).  Many dream of the DREAM act. More than nine-in-ten (91%) US Hispanics support the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a proposal to grant legal status to unauthorized immigrant children if they attend college or serve in the U.S. military for two years.

And, Hispanics pay a deep reverence to dreams and nightmares.  The religious affiliation of Hispanics/Latinos in the United States is 68% Catholic, 20% Protestant, 8% Secular, 3% other Christians, and 1% other faiths. Along with Catholicism, is a concurrent belief in and use of magico-religious means of dealing with life.  For instance, there are candles with pictures of saints in many Hispanic homes and are often part of altars in the living room or bedroom. Mine is in the kitchen window sill next to my menorah. Growing up, Mayan children are encouraged to remember dreams and to answer the ubiquitous morning question: ‘what did you dream?’ The Maya believe dreams contain important information for the dreamer. Do a Google search on “mayan dreams” and you get about 6,540,000 results.  The Christian Bible also contains many examples of dream messengers bringing warnings and advice to earth such as the Magi being warned to not return to Herod (Mat 2:12) and Pilate’s wife being warned about her husband’s fate (Mat 27:19). So, as a catholic Puerto Rican, whose household contained all sorts of candles and homages involving magico-religious artifacts, I too, was taught to keep track of my dreams, write them out and share when the sun was up (remember if the sun is out and you had a nightmare do not speak of the dream for if you do, the evil parts will come true). I grew up in awe of dreams and their power to guide one.

Despite my climb up the “corporate ladder” and my recovering catholic status, I have never stopped believing in the magical, spiritual power of dreams.  I still consume dreams and at times my dreams eat away at my consciousness. Last year, I took a most wondrous journey to Japan that will always be part of consciousness. The new and the old, the traditional and the modern, the warmth and the rigidity were all part of the Japanese experience. While in Japan, I came across a series of interesting dream mythologies permeating society’s consciousness.

Novelist Anaïs Nin once said, “Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country,” comfortably oblivious to the fact that there are mythological creatures like the Baku of Japan, just waiting to dine on those dreams with a nice chianti and a side of fava beans.  The Baku, also known as “the Dream Eater” originates in Chinese folklore, but appears to have been a common mythology in Japan by the 14-15th century, and more recently has become a popular critter featured in anime.  Dream Eater Merry is a Japanese action fantasy manga series adapted into an anime television series aired in Japan between January 7, 2011 and April 8, 2011.  Critics noted that the series straddled the line between the typical and the really weird.  So, how is that different from other anime series? Furthermore, in Pokemon, the Dream Eater is a damage-dealing Psychic-type move introduced in Generation I. However, the Dream Eater only works if the target is asleep.  Although this dream-eating behavior would superficially seem tinged with Freddy Krueger-esque insidiousness, fear not mortal, as the Baku is one of those rare monstrosities that has only the best of intentions.

The Baku eats nightmares, leaving you with only pleasant dreams.  The visage of the Baku has generally been chimerical (comprising an amalgamation of numerous animals), but has metamorphasized over the years into a vaguely tapir-like shape (kind of like a furry bear with an elephantine trunk).   A 17th Century Japanese text that references the Baku called the Sankai Ibutsu describes the Chinese form as having an elephant trunk, eyes of a rhinoceros, ox tail, and tiger paws.  Tusks certainly figure prominently, and a Tibetan version is essentially a Fu dog with tusks.

Benign intentions aside, the notion of a supernatural tapir mucking around in ones dreams looking for scrumptious nightmares to consume still leans towards the creepy side of things.  This does not stop folks from actually encouraging the Baku to pay a nightly visit through various ritual invocations.  What we have here is a fuzzy, animate version of the Native American dreamcatcher that comes when called.  I most definitely could have used this information back when I was a child.  Could writing about one’s dreams help the Baku catch the nightmares?  Notably, the cult of the Baku is seen in that the Chinese character representing its name used to be put in gold upon the lacquered wooden pillows of lords and princes. By the virtue and power of this character on the pillow, the sleeper was thought to be protected from evil dreams. It is rather, difficult to find such a pillow today: even pictures of the Baku have become very rare. But the old invocation to the Baku still survives in common parlance: Baku kurae! Baku kurae! “Devour, O Baku! Devour my evil dream! ” . . . When you awake from a nightmare, or from any unlucky dream, you should quickly repeat that invocation three times; then the Baku will eat the dream, and will change the misfortune or the fear into good fortune and gladness (Hearn, 1902, p247).  Blending my Hispanic upbringing with this Japanese tradition, should I only invoke this phrase when the sun is out?  Protocols are important. One misstep and who knows what will be coming after me when the sun sets. Speaking of what may happen when the sun sets tonight.

Tonight is the 85th Academy award-the Oscars- where the dreams of a select few will be brought forth in Oscar gold and the dashed dreams (nightmares of many more) will come to bear. Interestingly, supposedly the entire nation of China will be getting a live web-stream from one of L.A.’s Oscar viewing parties. What better place to broadcast the Oscars than a place where the Sankai Ibutsu (the Chinese version of the Bakucan devour the Hollywood nightmares that occurred last night and that will continue into the night tonight not only for the “losers” but also the “winners” (are we allowed to call them losers and winners or will their self-esteem be damaged at such talk?) who go on to embarrass themselves in their speeches. A prime example will probably be Anne Hathaway, who will most likely win for “Les Miserables” and will more than likely say something totally kooky in her acceptance speech which she has tended to ad-lib all season long.  She may be in need of invoking the “Baku kurae! Baku kurae” chant upon waking as an Oscar-winner tomorrow morning. The same goes for Jennifer Lawrence who, upon accepting a trophy at last month’s Golden Globes, Lawrence looked at it and ad-libbed, “What does it say? ‘I beat Meryl.'”  Yikes, how mortifyingly embarrassing. That’s the stuff that would give me nightmares. If they don’t want to invoke the Baku, perhaps they could light a natural herbal extract that is referred to as “Mayan dream” in order to have a more mediation-enhancing spiritual experience to cleanse their soul of wackiness. Speaking of nightmares, and stage-fright (well, nightmares of), Barbara Streisand is supposed to perform tonight at the Oscars and we all know she suffers horribly from stage fright. Last time she performed at the Oscars was over 36 years ago. Sure hope she lit a few candles and uttered, “Baku kurae! Baku kurae” this morning. Have you seen the “Nightmare Before Christmas”? Well, the ever-kooky Director Tim Burton will be at the Oscars tonight with his Oscar-nominated partner Helena Bonham Carter who gives all fashionistas nightmares and is likely to turn up in some garish attire that will give us all nightmares for weeks on end. So, may we all chant Baku kurae! Baku kurae” in preparation for the telecast

Repeat after me: Baku kurae! Baku kurae! “Devour, O Baku! Devour my evil dream!


Hearn, Lafcadio, 1850-1904. Kottō: Being Japanese Curios, With Sundry Cobwebs. New York: The Macmillan Company , 1902.


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