For a small island nation, Japan has given the world a treasure trove of cute and mythical creatures that manage to capture hearts around the globe. Pokémon and Hello Kitty are among the most famous. But Japan also has its Yokai, a group of supernatural beings that come in all kinds of forms, and one of Japan’s Yokai creatures, Amabie, is having a moment thanks to coronavirus and the Amabie Challenge.
According to Japanese legend, Amabie can ward off plagues. The story goes that in 1846 the Yokai creature emerged from the sea onto Kumamoto, an Island in the southwestern part of Japan. The mermaid-like entity had a beak and long flowing hair. She was said to have three legs and was covered in scales everywhere except for on her face.
Japanese Creations reported that Amabie identified herself to government officials on the island and said, “Good harvest will continue for six years from the current year. If an epidemic occurs, draw a picture of me and show it to everyone and they will be cured.”
Then she returned to the sea never to be seen again. The story, along with the portrait of Amabie, was even printed in the local bulletin, according to Japanese Creations.
Prophetic creatures were not uncommon in nineteenth-century Japan when cholera outbreaks were rampant.
According to a website called Yokai, Amabie is a derivative of the amabiko, which commonly came out of the ocean with a prophecy and a warning.
They wrote, “All amabiko sightings follow the same pattern: an amabiko emerges from the sea and delivers a prophecy. It foretells a period of bountiful harvest, followed by a period of disaster and disease. It instructs people to copy its image to use as protection against disease. Then it disappears.”
Amabie Art Is Big in Japan Since the Coronavirus Pandemic & Is Growing on Social Media
— 木下ゆうか Yuka Kinoshita (@mochiko0204) May 15, 2020
A lot of people have extra time on their hands these days, and maybe humanity is at a point when we’ll try anything. As a result, Amabie Art is starting to take off, especially in Japan where they are even making cakes and various foods that look like the plague-fighting sea creature.
The Amabie Challenge is one of the more benign challenges of late, only requiring people to do art in a show of solidarity as the world grapples with a virus that has no known treatment and has taken the lives of over 300,000 people globally.
It’s not unusual for humanity to look to the supernatural or mythical creatures when confronted with life-threatening situations. According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, “These figures, whatever other purposes they served, were expressions of the fears and hopes of the people.”
With the first pandemic in modern times and a shortage of hard scientific information about the virus itself or how to make it go away, Amabie was ripe for a comeback.
The Amabie Challenge Is Highlighting Humanity’s Creativity During Uncertain Times
Social media challenges often involve some kind of risk. In the case of the Amabie Challenge, it’s more of a way to kill time, be creative, and share with others. If it also wards off coronavirus — bonus.
— 宴車◎極彩的肉体ノ舞 (@utageguruma) May 15, 2020
— むぎちょこみるく (@mugi325channel) May 14, 2020
— NightmareSyrup (@nightmareSyrup) May 15, 2020
As a person that also love something like supernatural story and creature from a traditional folk of Japan like yokai, this one is something that I just know yesterday.
— ('の つ の') (@teagaja) May 11, 2020
People around the world are using all types of media to depict the mythological three-legged, beaked yokai. From animation to dressing up pets, pencil drawings to acrylic paintings, some people’s accompanying posts say things like, “I draw this as hope for a better day after this situation,” and “Save us please.”
The various takes on the Amabie Challenge serve to illustrate different approaches to a similar task, yet it underscores the commonality of what all of humanity is dealing with right now.
— DEVOVAS (@Devovas_Ketsui) May 11, 2020
— Rai 🌸 Commissions open (@Reivennant) May 10, 2020
— せきぐちあいみ AimiSekiguchi (@sekiguchiaimi) May 8, 2020
— MikaHashimoto （ ヒヤシンス湖 ） (@mikahashimoto) May 9, 2020
There have been 697 deaths reported in Japan according to Johns Hopkins University. The nation of about 126 million people has had 16,120 cases as of May 15.