Meet Amabie: the pandemic-defeating monster bringing hope to Japan
Meet Amabie: The pandemic-defeating 'spirit' bringing hope to Japan Image Credit: Twitter

As many countries extend their coronavirus lockdown, a Japanese monster is going viral on Twitter, in hopes for an end to the pandemic. Recently, tweeps have been getting creative with images of a legendary 19th century Japanese yōkai or spirit that was said to have emerged from the sea and spoken of an epidemic. Many people across the globe have shared depictions of the amabie, that has apparently become a mascot of sorts, alongside messages wishing for a swift end to the spread of COVID-19.

Twitter user @Rishika23257791 shared a depiction and wrote: “In Italy it's balcony singing. In India, it is the 'Go Corona!' chant. In Japan, it is a three-legged mer-person with scaly skin, lank hair and a beak that looks like the artistic offspring of a marriage between Picasso and Dali: the Amabie, yokai.”

And others indulged in humour, @henry_thurlow tweeted a picture with the caption: “So apparently there`s a Japanese Yokai called an ‘Amabie’ which said that if there is ever a plague or epidemic, simply show its image to people and all will be cured. With this drawing I shall assume I saved humanity. You are all welcome.”

According to an article on the news website “The story of the half-human, half-fish amabie monster was first featured in a 19th century woodblock-printed news sheet from the Edo Period (1603-1868). The creature was depicted with long hair and a beak, and a body covered in scales.”

The legend goes that an official had gone to the coast in Higo Province, now Kumamoto Prefecture, to investigate something shining in the waters every evening. Amabie is said to have appeared in the sea off the coast and told the official: ‘There will be a bountiful harvest for six years, but disease will also spread. Quickly draw a picture of me and show it to the people,” before disappearing back into the waters.

On March 6, Kyoto University Library posted on its Twitter account a picture of the original news sheet, dated April 1846, with an illustration of an amabie and a description beside it. The document is in its digital archive, reports the article.

Following this social media users started posting amabie images in various forms, as paintings, maga, paper cutouts, clay figurines and even as cookies - alongside phrases wishing for an early end to the current pandemic.

A drawing of the monster by late manga artist Shigeru Mizuki (1922-2015), known for his works featuring Japanese yōkai, was also published on the Mizuki Production Twitter account on March 17.

Japan is known for its penchant for kawaii (cute) mascots, but, there is some history to it. “Japan has traditionally had a custom of trying to drive off epidemics by such means as drawing oni ogres on pieces of paper and displaying them,” the article quotes Yuji Yamada, a professor at Mie University who is well versed in the history of practices in Japan.

Japan also has a mascot for quarantine. It was created by Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare before the coronavirus outbreak: Quaran is identified as a small 'fairy' but appears in life-size when making public appearances.

Shaped like the letter 'Q', it's created primarily to promote the work of Japan’s Quarantine Information Office and is said to travel around the world to prevent illegal and dangerous items from making their way into Japan.