Amabie: the ancient beast helping Japan ward off the coronavirus
NHK -- Jun 01
In Italy, they sing from balconies. In the UK, they place pictures of rainbows in windows. In India, they chant "Go corona." Around the world, solidarity in the face of the coronavirus is taking many forms. In Japan, that form has three legs, a beak, scaly skin and floor-length hair. Meet Amabie, the 19th century half-fish, half-human that's resurfaced to keep people safe.

The mermaid-like creature began appearing on social media in Japan in early March and was soon being tagged in upwards of 30,000 posts a day. Manga artists rendered the creature in their own styles, sharing images alongside messages wishing for an end to the virus.

Amabie then got official recognition when Japan's health ministry made it the face of its public safety campaign. After that, it started appearing on cookies, face masks, candy, bread rolls, the obligatory Starbucks logo pastiche, and even statues in parks.

According to a woodblock-printed news sheet dated April 1846, the creature made its first and only appearance in the sea off Higo Province, now Kumamoto Prefecture, on the southern island of Kyushu. As the story goes, a government official went down to the beach to investigate reports of something shining in the water. When the official arrived, a mermaid-like creature emerged, introduced itself as "Amabie who lives in the sea," and issued two predictions. "For the next six years, there will be a bountiful harvest across Japan, but there will also be an epidemic." Amabie then told the official, "Quickly draw a picture of me and show it to people," and disappeared back into the sea.

Nagano Eishun, librarian of the Fukui Prefectural Archives and an expert on ancient spirits, says Amabie is one of more than a dozen prophecy beasts reported during the Edo period, and it probably derives from an ape-like creature with a similar name.

In 1843, three years before Amabie first appeared, there were reports of a three-legged simian in the same province. The furry beast went by the name Amabiko and its origin story was strikingly similar. A woodblock printed news sheet from the era said a man went down to the sea to investigate reports of glowing lights. Amabiko introduced itself, predicted a rich harvest and an epidemic, then claimed that people would survive and live long, healthy lives if they saw the creature's image.

News source: NHK
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