Long ago, before the gods had split the world into many lands, there lived twin Baku brothers named Aoi, the Blue and Akai, the Red. The brothers fed on the dreams of mortal creatures, for when mortals such as humans or kappa dream, they create new experiences in their heads. These new experiences created by dreaming do not simply disappear when the mortal awakens, though. As a mortal’s dream goes on, it is turned into a waste product called “Yumebutsu.” In the times before Japan, there was so much Yumebutsu that the gods did not know what to do with it all, and thus the Baku were born.
Every night, the Baku Brothers received permission from the gods to descend from Heaven to seek out delicious dreams to devour. They ventured from person to person, consuming the Yumebutsu as they dreamt and leaving just enough behind so that the mortal could remember the experience in the morning. Sometimes, one of the brothers would consume too much and erase the memory of the mortal’s dream. For the most part, however, they left just enough behind to preserve the delicate memory, and the gods were pleased.
Akai preferred the sweet-tasting Yumebutsu that came from good dreams. Dreams of wealth, family, love, and happiness produced the sweetest, nectar-like byproduct that Akai couldn’t get enough of. Aoi, on the other-hand, preferred the bitter-tasting waste of nightmares. Dreams of terror, anger, agony, and fear caused this kind of waste, and Aoi gorged on it until their was nothing left, allowing the mortals who dreamt to never have to remember the horror of their nightmares. At first, all was well. Akai would leave just a little sweetness for the mortals to wake up with happy memories, and Aoi would consume the nightmares whole so that no one was fearful in the morning.
The sweetness and tenderness of the dreams Akai consumed caused the Baku to grow feelings of love, happiness, and morality. Akai found himself growing ever concerned for the mortals’ well-being. Very often, Akai would plead to the gods to give the peasants fair crop and weather, and to give the nobles guidance to be fair. The gods would agree, and the peasants thanked the Red Baku for their good crops, fair rule, and good dreams.
Aoi, who was consuming dreams of evil, began to develop feelings of hatred, jealousy, vanity, and anger. Aoi was jealous that the peasants worshipped his brother, and not him. After all, it was he who rid the people of their nightmares, the same bad dreams that they once feared with extreme emotion. “How dare they forget the one who stays their worst fears!” Aoi cried out in rage. As he grew more and more vain with every nightmare he devoured, so too did his hatred for mortals. With his feelings of discontent growing more and more, Aoi found himself embracing the darkness that his meals offered him with open arms. At last, Aoi decided to enact revenge upon the ungrateful creatures who he hated so much by eliminating the one they worshipped, his own brother Akai.
Aoi approached his brother, Akai, as he slept peacefully and dreamed of his beloved mortals. Aoi began to consume the dreams of his brother, every last bit. Since Baku eat only dreams, their life essence is made up dreams. As Aoi devoured his brother’s sweet dreams, he also devoured his essence. Aoi ate and ate, until there was nothing left of Akai. The blue Baku laughed in devilish glee, knowing that those he hated would suffer and his revenge would be complete.
The blue Baku flew down to Earth to watch the people suffer. The common folk cried for Akai to return to them, and their crops withered as they starved. Aoi laughed as he flew around and observed the confusion as to what happened to his beloved brother. However, when Aoi came across a young mother and her starving children, who cried and begged to the gods for help, something bubbled up inside of him; regret. Aoi was confused at the feeling, and fled the scene that caused his guilt. As the blue Baku observed more people, the feelings of sadness and guilt grew larger and larger, and Aoi realized that by consuming Akai’s essence. he brought upon himself his brother’s sweet and gentle nature. Aoi began to weep. “What have I done?” The Baku whispered as he cried. “I have murdered my good brother in cold blood for selfishness and vanity! I have allowed the darkness I have consumed to consume me instead! What I would give to have my brother back!” As Aoi repented his evil actions, he flew up to Heaven to give himself up to the gods’ justice.
Aoi prostrated himself before the Council of Gods and told them of his grim deeds. “I only ask of you one thing,” Aoi requested, “take me and return my brother to the world, for I have shamed both myself and Heaven.” Susanoo, the Storm God, spoke up first. “While it is true that you have brought shame to Heaven and to the gods,” he began solemnly, “you have also repented and begged for this to be made right. For that, you shall be made to make up for your deeds, not be punished for them.”
“I agree,” spoke Amaterasu, the Goddess of Fire, “There must always be a dream eater to keep the Yumebutsu from building again, but if Baku can be so corrupted by the darkness of nightmares, then how are we to stop this from happening again?”
“The answer is simple,” chimed in Fūjin, God of the Winds, “there must be only one Baku who consumes both good dreams and nightmares. If balance is kept, then he shall not be corrupted by the evils of bad dreams.” The rest of the gods agreed to this, and it was decided that in exchange for forgiveness of his actions, Aoi would continue to serve the gods as the only dream eater, eating both good and bad dreams. Susanoo laid out the rules. “From this day, you shall be known as Murasaki, the Purple Baku, for your blue essence will be melded with that of your brother’s red one. You will continue to consume the Yumebutsu of dreams, both bad and good. However, sometimes you must consume whole good dreams and leave a bit of the essence of nightmares, for even though we do not want mortals to only have fear, they cannot grow complacent. Balance must be kept.” Aoi, now known as Murasaki, thanked the gods for their graciousness and returned to Earth to continue consuming the Yumebutsu, both good and bad.
Thus is the reason why the mortals of Japan and beyond have both good dreams and bad dreams, and the reason why we can only remember a fragment of them in the morning. Sometimes, Murasaki leaves us a bit of sweetness, and sometimes a bit of darkness, in order to keep mortal feelings balanced between good and bad. Other times, he consumes our entire dream and we remember nothing. But in all cases, we must learn from the tale of Aoi and Akai that balance is key, and we must keep our feelings of vanity and jealousy under control, for if left unchecked, the emotions of darkness lead to actions we will regret later.