Photo: Joy Williams

Amabie Against Covid-19

A symbol of plague eradication

By Sherilyn Siy    - 2 min read

Since the spread of the Covid-19 virus, a strange mermaid-like character began trending in Japan.

This is creature is a youkai (Japanese specter) said to have appeared in Higo Province in Kumamoto Prefecture in the late Edo Period (1846). A town official went to investigate a glowing object that had been appearing in the sea every night. It had long hair, a bird's beak, a torso covered in scales that ended with three legs. The created identified itself as an アマビエ, amabie, and prophesied either a good harvest or a pandemic. In the case of the latter, it instructed people to disseminate copies of its image to defend against illness.

Amabie began trending on social media, with cartoon versions going viral. The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare used it in their covid-19 posters:

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare poster
Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare poster (Photo: Wikipedia)

In Hachinohe City, Aomori Prefecture, the creator of the city's mascot, Madoka Natsubori, dressed the mascot as an amabie and made her designs available for public use to raise awareness against the virus. Her designs are available on the city's website. Here is one on an omamori (amulet).

Hachinohe City's mascot character "Ikazukinzu" dressed as an amabie in an omamori (amulet)
Hachinohe City's mascot character "Ikazukinzu" dressed as an amabie in an omamori (amulet)

A symbol of plague eradication, amabie related goods also gained popularity. Masks with amabie designs, shochu with amabie labels, keychains, water bottles, mugs, and a host of products began retailing. Here is a high-quality sweet bean confectionary with its incredibly smooth texture.

Delicious amabie sweets
Delicious amabie sweets (Photo: Joy Williams)

I've been reflecting on the specter's instruction to make copies of its likeness or in some interpretations, on showing its image to everyone. Might this be an exhortation on the importance of everyone being on the same page ("to see the same image" = "to be on the same page")? In the case of Covid-19, this means that everyone be on the same page about wearing masks and vaccines. Perhaps then and only then will we be able to overcome this pandemic.

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Sherilyn Siy

Sherilyn Siy @sherilyn.siy

For Sherilyn Siy, Asia is home. Born in Hong Kong, Sherilyn spent time in the Philippines, China, and now lives in Japan. She speaks English, Filipino, Chinese (or putonghua), and Hokkien, her family's local dialect. Running is one of her favorite ways to explore Japan. She proudly finished the 2015 Tokyo Marathon -- her first ever full marathon -- in 4 hours and 37 minutes. She was absolutely psyched when she got selected again to run the new Tokyo Marathon route in 2018. She hopes to complete other races in Japan. 

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Bonson Lam a month ago
Wow this looks scary! Maybe something to do with the botoxed lips?