2 of Japan’s Mythological Creatures and Their Real Counterparts

  • While blood-drinking bats have been incorporated in the tales of Transylvania’s Dracula, in Japan there are also some real animals that have become the central part of their mythology.

    Baku and Tapirs


    The history of baku originates from China as a creature with the trunk of an elephant, the eyes of a rhinocerous, the tail of an ox, the paws of a tiger and the body of a bear. But as this mythical creature reached the shores of Japan, it became a creature with the ability to protect an individual from nightmares. Somewhat similarly, the Chinese version of a baku was meant to ward off evil spirits. During the Edo period (1603-1868), the baku was said to be so important that everyone in the country had to depict an image of the baku on the sail of the vessel of the lucky “treasure ship” of the Seven Gods of Fortune. This picture was put under pillows while sleeping to provide more protection at the time of their first dream of the year (hatsuyume). In real life, the tapir is also called baku in Japanese.


    Kirin and Giraffes


    The kirin is a creature depicted as a unicorn. Originally from China, it is one of the four major sacred animals in Chinese mythology (for example, the dragon, phoenix, and turtle). This creature is known for being wise and talented. Thus, in Japan, a talented child or a prodigy is called kirinji (kirin-child). According to ancient stories, the appearance of a kirin is an affirmation that the leader of the throne is righteous. During the 15th century, when the admiral and explorer Zheng He brought a giraffe from Africa to China, the Yongle Emperor found a resemblance between the giraffe and the mythical creature (kirin or qilin in Chinese) which the emperor later used to prove his legitimacy to power.


    What sort of legendary animals do you have in your country? Are they similar to the baku or the kirin?

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