Baku appears in many guises in Japanese Mythology and folklore. There are many references to a creature resembling a tapir. To ask for Baku's protection, one can either chant "Baku kurae" or "Baku kue" -- "eat it up tapir" -- immediately upon waking from a bad dream (as memebomb reports above), or place a written petition to Baku under one's pillow before sleep. A statue, picture or shrine in one's sleeping quarters might also be handy. Direct experience with a four-year-old plagued by bad dreams, and a little plush elephant named Baku, suggests that the psychic mechanisms at work here are effective.

There is some speculation that the Baku legend originates in China; this makes plenty of sense: real Malaysian tapirs actually live in Southeast Asia.

One description has Baku with spines on its back, a trunk like an elephant, tusks, sharp pointy teeth, and a mane like a lion. Some say Baku has a cow's tail, and rhino eyes. The trunk seems to be Baku's most important feature: it occurs in most of the visual representations, including netsuke, and temple ornamentation.

Even the creators of Pokemon have tapped into the Baku myth in their game/card/movie/junk/marketing/mind-poisoning product. Two of them: Drowzee and Hypno have the familiar tapir-like trunk and use their psychic abilities to put opponents to sleep. Hypno even "survives by putting its prey to sleep and consuming their dreams."

Alternate kanjis for baku:

獏, 貘

Definitions of baku from the Daijirin Japanese dictionary, translated by me:

  1. A tapir.
  2. An imaginary creature from China, which has a body similar to that of a bear, a snout similar to that of an elephant, eyes similar to that of a rhinoceros, a tail similar to that of a cow, and feet similar to that of a tiger. Said to eat people's bad dreams.

The myth of baku is not part of traditional Japanese culture, but it has gained popularity in pop culture, such as anime, manga, and other works of fiction. Since definition 2 of baku is fictionary, there are many alternated definitions for what baku looks like, and what it does. For example, one kind of baku may appear in a nightmare and gobble it up while the person is still sleeping. The awoken person will not remember the event.

Baku is the capital city of Azerbaijan, as well as one of the larger cities in that small nation, with an estimated 1991 population of 1,713,000 people, though the population has swelled to an estimated 1,900,000, with more than three million people in the metro area due to evacuations from the war torn areas near Armenia. Situated on the west coast of the Caspian Sea, the city takes up the majority of the Abseron Peninsula that rings the Bay of Baku. Called Baki in the Azerbaijani language, the word is considered to be derived from the Persian words bad kube, meaning effectively “hit by winds” or “blown upon by mountain winds”, though another theory is that the name comes from the Persian Bagh-Kuh, meaning “the Mount of God”. The city itself is made up of 11 districts and 48 townships, including some on islands in the Bay of Baku and the Caspian Sea. One such township, Oil Rocks, is actually a manmade island more than 100 km out to sea from the city of Baku.

The main city of Baku is centered on the old fortress town of Icheri-Shekher. The majority of the walls of this old city survive to this day, having been strengthen by the Russians following there 1806 seizure of the town. Among the many places of import in the old city are, the 27 meter tall tower of Kyz-Kalasy (Maiden’s Tower), said to have been built in the 12th century AD. Also within the old city are the Synyk-Kala Minaret (built between 1078 and 1079), the court of law (Divan-Khan), the Dzhuma-Mechet Minaret and the mausoleum said to be attributed to the astronomer Seida Bakuvi.

Beyond the old city is the new, ringing the hills that once surrounded the old city of Baku, this new city is a center of education and culture for the region. Much of the waterfront has been made the domain of a peaceful and attractive park area and the industrial sectors of the city have been mostly regulated to the eastern and southwestern ends of Baku. There is one major university in Baku as well as at least eight other institutions of higher education within the city. The Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences makes up this number and conducts a large amount of scientific research and studies; as well there is one institute which focuses exclusively on the oil industry. Baku also does not lack for museums, theatres, parks and other cultural establishments.

The city of Baku has built itself on petroleum in the last century and a half. Indeed it is recorded as far back as the 15th century that oil lamps in Baku were fueled by surface wells of petroleum and records of the oil itself exist as far back as the 8th century AD. The first full scale commercial development of the oil industry would begin in 1872, and at that time Baku contained one of the richest known oil deposits in the world. With the with the last half of the twentieth century bringing an exhausting of Baku’s land based oil supplies, the city itself has moved to a supporting role in the extraction of the rich supplies of oil in the Caspian. The industries have also further developed and Baku is now a leading producing region for oil industry machinery and for basic chemical production, as well as textiles and foodstuffs.


".. the city has two extraordinarily fortified strong stone castles. One of them, the biggest, is near the sea, and the waves waste its walls. This is the castle, which the Tartars (Mongols) could not capture. The other castle is higher than the first one. Its top is destroyed by balusters. A special feature of this city is the constant wind which is blowing day and night. Sometimes it is so strong that it is impossible for a man to go against the wind, horses and sheep in winter are often swept into the sea because they can not hold themselves on land. Here are deposits of tar and oil, oil is extracted daily for more than two hundred camel pack-loads. Near them, there is another oil spring, which is ceaselessly pouring out oil day and night, this oil is as white as jasmine oil, its rental estimates thousand dirharns. Near the oil-wells there is hard soil of yellow color, which burns like a candle. People break off pieces of it and take it back to the town for heating their houses and baths". From "Kitabi Talhis as-Asor, Va'aja'ib al-malik alkahhar" by Abd or-Rashid al-Bakuvi, written in 1403.

The first known reference to Baku is around the year 885, but there is significant evidence that a settlement existed in the area as early as 300 BC and speculation exists that the city could actually have been well established by the 7th century BC. The rich supply of natural resources in the area, such as saffron and salt, would attribute to the quick growth of Baku as a commercial center. The spread of a feudal society in the area gave rise to a system of fortified towers, which became the front lines in the defense of the immediate areas around Baku and a quick route through which important signals could be relayed. The earliest settlement of the city existed along the coast of the Caspian Sea (Khazar), and is the present day location of many of the great monuments and buildings in Baku. The Giz Galasi (Maiden’s Tower) itself, though dated to the 12th century AD is said to have had its first foundation laid as early as the 5th to 7th century BC. The city is also said to have been the location of an important fire temple of the Zoroastrianism religion of ancient Persia.

With the 9th century decline of the Abbas’ caliphate, the area of Baku would fall under the sway of the state of the Shirvan-Shah. The 11th century would bring real economic development of Baku, as the city became one of the most important cities in the Shirvan domain. Following an earthquake in the Shirvan-Shah capital of Shemakha, in 1191 the capital was moved to Baku by Ahistan I. The city walls of Baku can also be dated to this time period, with a recently discovered inscription that attributes them to Shirvanshah Manuchuhr II (1120 – 1160). Baku, unfortunately, would fall to the Mongols in 1230 AD and the city would be razed by the Mongol forces for its resistance to their conquest. Though various rulers attempted to revive the city, the area would be several centuries in recovering.

The 14th century would bring renewed prosperity to Baku though. Initially brought back into trade routes by the Genoese and Venetian traders, the city quickly reclaimed its hegemony over the Caspian Sea and then spread its trade links as far as India and China. Indeed, the city became so strong a trading force that at least several sources, including one atlas, published in 1375, referred to the Caspian Sea as Baku. To this day two of the cavansaries survive the Bukhara caravansary and the Multani caravansary. Following this revitalization of the city, the Shirvanshahs would again move their capitol to Baku. Under Khalilullah I (1417 – 1462), the city again became the capitol of the Shirvan and the city would be revitalized. It was then that the spectacular Shirvanshahs Palace would be built in Baku, which included the intricate lace like works of the Divan-Khane portals.

Baku would be sieged by the Safavid armies under Shah Ismail Khatai in 1501. And though the stout fortifications of the city would withstand the siege for many a day, the city eventually fell to the Safavid armies. Though the fall of the city was a hard blow to Shirvan, the state would manage to survive and hold Baku until 1538 when Shah Tahmasib of the Safavids completely conquered Shirvan. It was now that the next age of Baku would begin. For the Safavids were not only at war with Shirvan at the time, but also with the powerful Ottoman Empire and Baku would change hands numerous times in the next few years. The city fell to the Ottoman forces three times, in 1580, 1584 and 1590. But by 1607, following a revitalization of the Safavid army, the city was retaken yet again by the Safavids.

The city would again go through centuries of peace and prosperity as it grew and flourished. But this prosperity would attract the attention of another powerful foe. This time it was the Russian Empire that drove south across the Caspian Sea and sieged the city. Baku would withstand the naval bombardment from the Russian ships for a short while, but fell on June 26, 1723 and became a dominion of Russia under Peter I. Seeking to resettle some of the Russian minorities in Baku, Peter allowed many Armenians to settle in the newly conquered areas, as well as exiling about 5000 Kazan Tatars to the city. But the city would not remain in Russian hands indefinitely and, when the skilled commander Shah Nadir rose to power in Iran, the city was again taken by the nation of Iran.

Following the assassination of Shah Nadir in 1747, the city became part of an independent Baku Khanate under Mirza Mohammad. Though the city would retain its status as the capital of the new nation, it was again razed to the ground in 1795, this time by Aga Mohammad of Iran. Following this event, though the Iranian forces left the area, Baku’s fate was all but sealed; the Russian Empire, fearful of permanently losing its hold on the Caspian began to turn its sights upon Baku again. On June 13, 1796, Russian forces, under a general Zubov, entered the city and held it nominally in Russia’s name. Though Russian troops would be peacefully expelled less than a year later, the damage was done and Russia was determined to hold Baku.

Czar Alexander I would also attempt to take Baku after his father's death in 1801, but he first had to remove Iranian presence from the area, thus the Russian-Iranian Wars would be over the fate of Baku as well as other small areas of land around the western Caspian Sea. The city was again captured by Russian forces on October 3, 1806 and the ruler of the Baku Khanate, Huseingulu Khan, was forced to flee to Iran. Though Huseingulu would return in the lead of an Iranian army in 1826, the Russians again fought him off. The Turkmanchay Treaty of 1828 would formally place Baku within the Russian sphere of influence, but the city had been devastated and was reduced to only the inner, old part of the city, with less than 3000 inhabitants remaining.

The new Russian Transcaucasia would be run not from Baku, but from Shamakhy until 1859 when another earthquake devastated Shamakhy and forced to regional government to move to Baku. What would follow was a massive revitalization of the city, funded upon the new resource found within its reaches. Baku would again go from the brink of becoming a backwater city to one whose name was on everyone’s lips. Though oil was used throughout much of the history of Baku, it generally stayed a localized item throughout much of the city’s history. Though the English, Moscow Company, did send 6 expeditions to Central Asia and Baku from 1568 to 1574 and the abundance of oil was especially noted during these expeditions, it would not be until the 19th century that excavation of the oil began.

Full scale oil production would begin in Baku in 1872 and the city quickly became a bright spot on the world map. Long before the rest of the industrialized world was producing oil, Baku was and in great quantities. It would be the British who, along with the Russians, 300 years from their original expeditions would help establish the Baku oil industry. And over the span of the next few decades, the city of Baku became the development ground for much of what became the technologies and practices of which the world used to drill for and produce oil. With the new economic prosperity the city began to grow again, and by 1882 Baku’s population had skyrocketed to 43,000 people and it would jump again, reaching over 200,000 people by 1913. The period of joint British and Azerbaijan excavation of Baku’s oil reserves would end in April, 1920 though, when the Soviet forces seized control of the city.

The Soviet government of Russia was obviously ready to make Baku an important city within the new state. They needed the fuel reserves this city and its surrounding lands provided and World War II would drive that point home. During the war the Baku oil industry provided 75% of Russia’s oil reserves and in 1941 alone, the city’s industries extracted 23,482 million tons of oil. With Adolf Hitler’s drive toward the oil producing lands of Russia and the Middle East, Baku was undoubtedly on his mind. Though the city was partially evacuated and some of the production facilities were shut down, the wells of Baku continued to pump oil to the Russia war machine throughout the entirety of the war. Baku would continue to grow after the war and experienced yet another boom. In 1949 construction was completed on the township of Oil Rocks, though 100 km out to sea, this is considered a part of Baku and is unique in that it is an actual town built around oil derricks.

With the perestroika movement in the 1980s, chaos ruled in Baku as well as the entire Tran Caucasus area and divides began to appear among the many peoples in the region. When the Armenians expelled the Azerbaijani population of Garabagh, the city of Baku would receive many of those people. On November 17, 1988 mass demonstrations were conducted in Baku’s Lenin Square in the hopes that the Soviet government would put a stop to the Armenian actions. In response the Soviet government sent in troops to quall the town, leading to a massacre of nearly 750 people at the soldier’s hands, but the movement would not be slowed and on October 18, 1991 Baku became the capital of the newly founded nation of Azerbaijan.

Further problems would strike the city as Armenian forces continued to occupy much of Azerbaijan’s lands and refugees continued to stream into the city. One Heydar Aliyev would take control of the Republic of Azerbaijan though in 1993 and would quall much of the problems facing the nation. As well, he has brought oil investments back into the city, primarily through the British company of BP, which signed “The Contract of the Century” in 1994.

Baku. (2005). Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved September 30, 2005, from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service

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