Since 2020 Japanese social media has been flooded with images of a monster called Amabie who supposedly offers protection against illness. It’s popularity leading to the #amabiechallenge taking Twitter by storm.
With the rise of Coronavirus cases in Japan, artists across the country have found a unique means of spreading hope by sharing images of a legendary yōkai. Meaning “strange apparition” these creatures feature heavily throughout Japanese folklore and pop culture, appearing in various video games, manga, and more. Yet with Covid cases in Japan once again climbing, the mermaid-like yōkai known as the Amabie has garnered particular popularity. But why?
Well according to a local legend from the Kumamoto Prefecture, in May of 1846 a town official was sent to investigate a strange glowing object which had been appearing in the sea on a nightly basis for several days. Upon approaching the shore, the Amabie appeared to him and introduced itself. Featuring a duck’s bill, long hair and balancing on three legs, the creature was certainly a strange sight. Stranger still was what it supposedly predicted, as it claimed that in six years an epidemic would ravage the country but that the ill would be protected if they saw and shared images of the Amabie.
The Amabie Finds Twitter Fame
The legend remained largely forgotten until the rise of Covid-19 in 2020, when it gained new popularity as a kind of good-luck charm against the pandemic. Artists of all sorts took to sharing their depictions of the yōkai on social media and soon the “Amabie Challenge” was born, encouraging the public to create images of the Amabie in an act of solidarity in the wake of the virus. The activity even spread into the real-world, with the Amabie appearing on everything from government flyers to artisanal candies and coffee. Since then the legend continues to offer hope for relief from the pandemic, with the Amabie appearing regularly on Japanese Twitter even during 2021.
With Coronavirus cases surging once more in both Japan and elsewhere in the West, we can expect the Amabie will have it’s work cut out for it. Still, we can’t deny that this odd mermaid has clearly inspired unity during an otherwise grim time, with the yōkai returning from obscurity to become a guardian against Covid and bridge the gap between obscure folklore and worldwide issues.
Interested in other strange tales from Japan? Check out how one city’s using terrifying robotic wolves to ward off bears.