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As Japan continues to struggle with increasing uncertainty about COVID-19, a cute supernatural creature, very popular in feudal Japan, has returned to fight the virus, this time on social media.
In mid-March 2020, the hashtag #Amabie (＃ ア マ ビ エ) became a trend on Twitter as people from all over Japan posted drawings and other creations of an otherworldly creature called “yokai” (妖怪) created during the Japanese Edo period, 200 years ago.
Similar to an unattractive mermaid with long hair, in the Edo era the “yokai”, named “amabie”, was said to protect against the black plague, similar to the current COVID-19. According to a legend, it was possible to protect oneself from the disease by drawing a picture of an “amabie”.
On Twitter, people have resurrected the yokai and posted their own images of the creature with the hashtag #Amabie (＃ ア マ ビ エ).
– サ タ ケ シ ュ ン ス ケ ｜ イ ラ ス ト レ ー タ ー (@satakeshunsuke) March 9, 2020
To eradicate the plague! #amabie
– 吉田 戦 車 (@yojizen) March 12, 2020
I also appeal to the “kami” (NOTE: A “yokai” can be a kind of “kami” or god in the Japanese tradition) to protect me.
Not everyone draws an “amabie”. Some have created their own “amabie” charms. This Twitter thread created by the team at a craft and craft publication called “Tezukuri Town” shows how:
– 手 づ く り タ ウ ン by 日本 ヴ ォ ー グ 社 (@tezukuritown) March 12, 2020
Hoping for a quick return to peace and normality, the editorial department (of our magazine) has created an “amabie” pet.
The pattern and instructions are included in the next tweet, so try making yours.
The woven “amabie” is also famous:
– ぽ ぽ ぽ 本 舗 (@popopohompo) March 10, 2020
I have knitted an “amabie”. Was there ever such a beloved monster in such a short time?
In FU magazine, a monthly publication in Fukui Prefecture, Nagano Eishu, researcher and scholar of folklore, explains the traditional appeal of “amabie”:
一 つ の 理由 と し て 、珍 獣 ・ 幻 獣 の 姿 を 「見 る」 と 除 災 招福 の 御 利益 が 得 ら れ る と す る 心性 の 存在が 挙 げ ら れ る。
舶来 象 や ラ ダ ダ 、 た ま ま 人魚 を 描 た 摺 護符 護符 と し て て も も わ た 貼 貼 貼 貼 貼 貼 貼 貼 貼 貼 貼 貼 貼 貼 貼 貼 貼 貼 貼 貼 貼 貼 貼 貼 貼 貼 貼の で あ る。
One of the reasons is that there is an idea (in traditional Japanese folklore) that by “seeing” the appearance of a rare or fantastic creature, we can grasp some of its mystical goodness and help eradicate misfortune. Before, (in addition to “amabie”) people also made drawings representing elephants, camels, and even mermaids, which functioned as amulets. People thought that simply by looking at or displaying these images their lives would be longer and would help ward off evil.
Nagano goes on to explain that during an epidemic in 1858 in Japan, illustrations of “three-legged monkeys that resemble monkeys” were sold throughout Edo (present-day Tokyo) as an amulet to protect themselves from cholera.
People continue to post “amabie” images on Twitter. You can see more creations under the tag # ア マ ビ エ (“Amabie”).
“Amabie” appears in a multitude of media. This video shows an artist carving a traditional Japanese stamp in the shape of a “yokai”:
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U49imsh0Fq4 (/ embed)