Sunday, February 25, 2007

"Yume o Taberu"

I was at a Japanese language conversation group on Saturday discussing animal names. The discussion leader had brought in a picture from the back of a box of Japanese animal crackers, and it had a long list of animal names in Japanese and English. But some of the names were odd. There was "peafowl," and "fur seal." There was parrot, which is common, and macaw, which is not. And there was a really strange term for rooster - can't remember it just now. I pointed out "tapir," which I'm not sure I've even seen in most zoos. I asked the Japanese people at the table if it was a common animal in Japan. You never know what's trendy.

So we were talking about tapirs, how big they are, trying to figure out if we're all thinking about the same animal, and the one Japanese man says to the other, "Yume o taberu."

Now, I wasn't having the greatest day for hearing Japanese, and a lot of Japanese words sound like other words - but those words are pretty easy. Yume - dreams. Taberu - to eat. It didn't make any sense, so I thought I'd misheard the words. I guess I was just staring at him, so they asked if I'd understood. I had the words right, they just didn't make sense. "It eats your dreams," he had said.

Turns out there's Japanese folklore about tapirs that eat dreams. When a child has a nightmare, the tapir can come and eat it to make it go away. You can put pictures of a tapir on your pillow. One of the men at the conversation group said it can go the other way too, if you're having a nice dream the tapir can come and eat it and make you unhappy.

Tapirs, huh? Who'da thunk.

Wikipedia entry for Baku

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