What are dreams? Visual representations of our unconscious desires and fears? The processing of information accumulated during our waking hours? Interpretations of random brain and body signals generated during sleep? Perhaps even windows into the future?
Understanding dreams and unlocking the secrets that they may hold has intrigued mankind since the dawn of time. Shamen, philosophers, psychoanalysts, scientists and curious laypeople have all tried to unpick the riddles of these nocturnal visions. But despite extensive research, and the fact that dreams are experienced by every single person on a nightly basis, little consensus has been reached. Consequently, the answer to why we dream and what purpose it serves remains as elusive as ever.
One of the most intriguing mysteries surrounding dreams is whether, unprompted by pre-existing information, they can give us a glimpse of the future. Despite some tantalizing cases which appear to add weight to the argument in favour of the reality this phenomenon, scientific research has so far been unable to fully prove or disprove that dreams can indeed give us a forewarning of events yet to take place.
Whatever the reality, I have had several dreams which did seem to prophecize events which took place on the following day. Looking back at them objectively, at least one could be dismissed as coincidence, while others were events which had a high probability of occurring and were perhaps expected to happen. The most recent, on Christmas Eve, however, does not seem so easily explained away.
This dream was remarkable for two reasons; its setting and its prediction of an event of which I had received no previous hints. I have lived in Japan for 17 years. During that time, not a single dream which I have been able to recall took Japan as its setting. All of my dreams have been set in the English city of Bath, my home until relocating to Tokyo. This particular dream, however, was set in my Tokyo neighbourhood. Perhaps for that reason, and the events portrayed in it, it remained extraordinarily vivid in my memory when I awoke on Christmas Day. In the dream, I was walking along the road which leads from my house to the subway station. When I arrived at the crossing outside the local gasoline stand, I came across a large black cat lying apparently dead in the gutter. There are many cats in my neighbourhood, all of the short-tailed variety. They have compact bodies and short legs. This cat, by contrast, had a long tail, long legs and a sleek graceful body. It appeared to have been hit by a vehicle while crossing the road. Its back legs and hindquarters were horribly injured. A passing woman with a young child in a pushchair prodded the cat with her foot to see if it was still alive, but it made no response. With some effort, she lifted its heavy body out of the gutter with one hand and placed it on the grass verge, whereupon, the creature suddenly stirred and attempted to drag itself away.
It was at this point that I awoke. What could have prompted this dream? Although I saw cats on the street every day, I had not seen any injured in this way. The dream was so vivid that I recounted it when the family gathered in the living room, but everyone was more interested in opening their Christmas presents than listening to the grisly details of my dream.
And so we began the joyous task of exchanging and opening presents. Although I knew that my son was going to give me a CD boxset of radio adaptations of the ghost stories of M. R. James, he surprised me with an additional gift; a manga entitled Fear! The Cursed Black Cat by Hama Shinji. At the time when I unwrapped the manga, my dream had been pushed to the back of my mind and I made no connection between it and the title of the manga.
Although not particularly interested in manga, I have collected a few by Hama Shinji, attracted by his cover art and supernatural stories. Casually flicking through the pages, I was stopped in my tracks by the startling illustration of a large black cat lying injured in a pool of blood in the road, its hind quarters hideously mangled after being struck by a car. The drawing was a perfect mirror image of the scene from my dream.
While not an earth-shattering prediction of a future event, my dream does seem remarkable in its unprompted foreshadowing of the images in the manga. Could it have been a case of coincidence? Had I seen the manga before, but forgotten it? I will concede that both explanations are possible, although I feel certain that neither are the case. Although I admire the work of Hama Shinji, I have never made a study of his manga and was unaware of this particular volume until receiving it. However, as a nonbeliever in the paranormal I can offer no explanation for this mysterious footnote to Christmas Day 2021.