I learned this week that Japanese people frequently encounter “wild, violent beasts” in their dreams.
These monsters leave a deep impression and are more troublesome than other nightmares about school, repeatedly failing at some challenge or being paralysed by fear.
I think I’ve probably had nightmares about all these crises, although I must admit my memories are hazy. So that raises the question; what, if anything, is distinctly Japanese about these kinds of dreams?
The American dream
A study found that compared to the Japanese, Americans are more likely to dream about being locked up, losing a loved one, finding money, being inappropriately dressed or nude, or encountering an insane person.
All this research was presented by a reporter called Ben Healy in an article for the Atlantic magazine entitled “Bad Dreams Are Good – how your night life prepares you for tomorrow.”
Given that the Atlantic is quite an old fashioned, rather learned magazine, I was quite surprised by some of the racy information which appeared in the piece.
It says that eight percent of our dreams are about sex – a rate that holds for both women and men. However women are twice as likely as men to have sexual dreams about a public figure while men are much more likely to dream about multiple sexual partners.
The Atlantic also informs us that “the dreamiest member of the animal kingdom is the platypus which logs up to eight hours of REM sleep per day.”
Platypus look to me like something out of a dream, as their heads and feet appear to have come from a duck, their tales look like those of a beaver and they are covered in fur, like an otter.
They also lay eggs and have venomous feet. According to the wildlife TV presenter David Attenborough, when naturalists first showed pictures of them to incredulous people in the 19th century, there was a widespread view that the platypus was unreal.
Even stranger than the platypus is a mythical creature which lives in Japan called a baku. It has an elephant’s trunk, rhinoceros’ eyes, an ox’s tail, and a tiger’s paws. (I thought it was Japanese but apparently its origin is China.)
A child having a nightmare in Japan will wake up and repeat three times, “Baku-san, come eat my dream.” Legends say that the baku will come into the child’s room and devour the bad dream, allowing the child to go back to sleep peacefully.
Loss of hope
However, we are warned that calling to the baku must be done sparingly, because if he remains hungry after eating one’s nightmare, he may also devour one’s hopes and desires, leaving one to live an empty life.
I am pleased to say that for the most part, these horrible consequences are not dwelled upon. Pictures of baku are often drawn on children’s pillows in Japan and China to promote a good night’s sleep.
With that, I wish you sweet dreams, whichever country you are from.