Some of the most creative, profound modern tattoos take inspiration from ancient Asian mythology. Chinese symbols for happiness dance across the sleeves of many ink lovers. Japenese cherry blossoms provide graceful body art, reflecting the newness of life each spring. Lucky Koi fish swim inkily across many tattoo designs. Asian culture has long supported tattoos, and traditional Japanese tattooing remains a common practice to this day.
One of the most intriguing Asian tattoos, the Baku, is inspired by Chinese and Japanese mythology. This creature provided protection from nightmares. While many now treat the Baku as a myth, superstition remains around use of the Baku’s image to ward off bad dreams.
Interested in a Baku tattoo? Below, we share more about its myths, appearance, and symbolism today:
What is the Baku in Chinese and Japanese mythology?
What does the Baku look like?
Legend says the gods formed Baku after every other creature’s creation. As a result, the Baku’s parts are a hodge-podge of “leftover” animal pieces. This animal from Chinese mythology carries the trunk of an elephant for a nose, tiger’s feet as paws, eyes of a rhinoceros, and a tail from a cow.
Some modern sources equate the Baku to the real-life tapir (which looks like a cross between a pig and an anteater). Interestingly, the Japanese word for “Baku” is identical to the Japanese word for “Tapir.”
The Baku is rarely depicted with a friendly expression—this should not surprise anyone. Imagine you’re the Baku: The gods made you simply to avoid wasting creation’s leftovers. Would you feel happy?
What did the Baku do?
The legend of the Baku stems from Chinese mythology; it traveled to Japan as early as the 1600s. The Baku, according to legend, lived on a diet of dreams. It could eat your nightmares—or consume your hopes and aspirations. If it ate your bad dreams, you would sleep peacefully. If Baku ate your hopes, you would live an empty life.
Baku rarely (if ever) visited without an invitation. To call Baku, children would simply say, “Baku, devour my bad dream!” Then—hopefully—he would eat their nightmares, and leave their hopes untouched.
According to legend, nightmares and evil spirits often satisfied the Baku’s craving. As a result, Chinese culture regarded the Baku as a protector. Some slept on pillows shaped like Baku, or placed an image of the Baku under their pillow. During each new year, many called to Baku to ensure a lucky dream (not an evil one) to begin their year.
The Baku provided protection and security for the Chinese and Japanese. Today, the Baku continues to symbolize safe dreams and restful sleep. Children place the Baku’s image under their pillow on New Year’s Eve, and adults keep replicas of the Baku by their bedside.
What is the Baku’s significance as a tattoo?
Many Asian tattoos represent protection, good fortune, or similar ideas. What makes the Baku different?
Though the Baku offered protection from various evil spirits, it mainly focused on bad dreams. A nightmare could mean poor sleep and a difficult start to the day. Many felt the Baku did not just eat bad dreams, but also transformed good dreams into lucky dreams.
Are you trying to find a traditional Chinese symbol for your newest tattoo? Consider the Baku as an unconventional protector of rest as you sleep. Prefer a modern tattoo with Japanese flair? Talk to us about a stylized image of Baku to add to your visible tattoos. With a tattoo design of Baku, you’ll sleep knowing bad dreams are far away.
What does a Baku tattoo look like?
The Baku may be a chaotic mish-mash of various animals, but your tattoo doesn’t need to look thrown together. It’s simple to portray him in a way that complements your personal aesthetic.
For example, pillows of the Baku feature his silhouette. Some sculpted versions of the Baku showcase a colorful, elegant trunk swirling and twisting into the night. Others depict him as an almost-cute creature. If you’re intrigued by the idea of a Baku tattoo, get in touch with our artists. We can create a tattoo design that blends your body art style with Baku’s traditional image.
Ready to get your new tattoo?
At Chronic Ink, we have some of the best traditional and neo-traditional Asian tattoo artists in Toronto & Vancouver. We welcome walk-ins for consultations at our Downtown Toronto, Midtown Toronto , Markham and Vancouver locations. No appointment necessary or contact us and let us know your idea today.
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