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Japan’s Ancient Amabie Spirit Is Going Viral to Ward Off Coronavirus

News Culture
by Alex Bresler Apr 23, 2020

In times like these, everything we can do to ward off bad omens is worth a shot. For some, that means using modern technology to facilitate events like isolation discos and citywide singalongs. For others, it means looking to the past and reviving ancient traditions.

The long-forgotten Amabie, a mermaid-like figure from Japanese folklore, has made an unexpected comeback in today’s internet culture as the people of Japan have taken to circulating images of the auspicious spirit online in an effort to combat the coronavirus.

An example of yōkai, a family of mythological figures that was popularized in Japanese lore during the Edo period, Amabie made its first-known appearance in print in 1846 when a woodblock rendering was published in a local newspaper. The image quickly spread throughout Japan, and for good reason — Amabie is said to ward off plagues.

According to legend, a Japanese official encountered the supernatural creature upon investigating a green light emanating from underwater in today’s Kumamoto Prefecture. There, he encountered a figure resembling a hybrid fish, woman, and bird, with a scaly body and three flippers, hair down to its figurative toes, and a beak where a nose might otherwise be. The two quickly made a deal: In exchange for the official sharing of its image, the spirit would help ward off a disease that was predicted to spread throughout Japan.

Now, with the coronavirus pandemic plaguing not only Japan but the entire world, it seems like as good a time as any to get Amabie’s image recirculating. And thanks to the ease of sharing images and information in the age of social media, that’s exactly what’s happening, with people around the world participating in the #AMABIEchallenge. In Japan, Amabie has even started appearing on ubiquitous items like facemasks.

Superstitions aside, there’s no harm in taking a minute out of our regular social media use to share Amabie’s image. Whether or not the folkloric figure will have any impact on curbing the spread of the coronavirus, the act of coming together as a global community and uniting over world cultures will always be worth encouraging.

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