Japan's Newest Coronavirus Infection Prevention Mascot is a Mermaid Monster ~ The Amabie

Nationwide Culture Stayhome 2020.04.24
The COVID-19 outbreak has brought new creativity to Japanese Twitter, resulting in the sudden popularity of this mysterious bird-mermaid (アマビエ, amabie).

Bird Mermaid? (Birdmaid??) Coronavirus?
Why Is This Mermaid Monster Trending on Twitter?

Look up the #アマビエ (amabie) hashtag on Twitter, and you're likely to find a number of images of a uniquely Japanese creature that looks like nothing you've ever seen before. The bird-beaked fish-tailed maiden is an amabie, and she's become something of a mascot, a symbol of those praying for the COVID-19 outbreak to swiftly come to an end.

The trend began with a tweet from a Japanese shop specializing in traditional, Japanese scroll-style posters depicting Japanese monsters and legendary monsters (a fairly niche market, certainly). The shop, Orochidou, shared an image of one of their posters, hoping to encourage others to join them and post their own illustrations of Japanese monsters. What they did not expect was for the amabie to boom in popularity on Twitter over the next 10 days, with even the official Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare getting involved.

Introducing the Amabie

While some of Japan's legendary creatures have made it into international spheres (you'll find kappas everywhere from Harry Potter to Pokemon), the amabie still lives in obscurity, even in Japan. The mermaid, supposedly witnessed in Kumamoto Prefecture during the Edo period (1603 ~ 1868), is described as having long hair, a bird beak, and a scaley fish body - although they supposedly have three tail fin legs instead of two (which we hear is the standard for mermaids). Thanks to the relatively recent history of the legendary creature, historical documents collected in the library of Kyoto University describe discovering the amabie in the mid-19th century. People living in the Higo Province (current day Kumamoto) saw something glowing in the sea on a nightly basis, so they gathered and went to the shore to investigate. What appeared from the waters told the people it was an amabie, and that it lived in the ocean. Next, it announced that they would have good harvests for the next six years, but that disease might also spread, so they people should show a portrait of the amabie to anyone who fell sick. Then the mermaid returned to the water.
The promises of the amabie make it seem less monstrous, and more like the human-like mermaids we see in other mythologies. And of course the biggest promise, that just looking at a portrait of the amabie should cure disease, is exactly why it became the perfect mascot to take over Twitter during the coronavirus outbreak.

The Internet Gets to Work! Making the Most of this New Infection Prevention Mermaid Mascot

With this new inspiration to work with, the bored, quarantined, and ultra-creative minds of the internet had plenty to do. With the legend telling us that the amabie can help prevent epidemic, illustrations flooded twitter, with the mermaid telling the world to stay home, to practical social distancing, and stay safe! And it didn't stop there, with the amabie inspiring crafts, cosplay, and more.
When the artists of the internet are stuck at home, the internet gets some amazing content. Look at this adorably animated amabie staying home and pigging out on canned shrimp.
If you've ever used a convenient train pass in Tokyo, this little amabie might look familiar. That's because these are Suica amabie (#Suicaアマビエ)! While you stay home, the creator tells us, amabie is riding the rails and traveling Japan, trying to end the outbreak.
Perhaps hanging these amabie lanterns from Aomori-ken Jiba Select will ward off the virus.
The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare came out with this simple amabie design, telling the young people of Japan (they themselves say) to do their best to prevent the spread of the virus.
Wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) maker Kobai even created these beautiful and edible amabie wagashi.
It's Gen Hoshino in amabie form! Hoshino is a popular Japanese singer-songwriter, who's been in the news recently thanks to his new quarantine-themed song Dancing on the Inside, all about staying home. The song inspired quite a few other Japanese musicians to sing along and post their versions on social media, all telling the world to stay home and stay safe! Perhaps Gen Hoshino really is part-amabie.
If only Starbucks had switched over from their standard mermaid in time to prevent this little fiasco!
We can really see the broad range of creativity on the internet with items like this hand-woven lace amabie...
...this special amabie coffee...
...and even wearable little mini-amabie pins!


Want to see more of Japanese twitter's whimsical amabie creations? Just look up the hashtag #アマビエ (you'll find the most results using the original Japanese), and check it out yourself! There's more creativity popping up every day, so if you see anything good (or make any amabie creations yourself) let the Japankuru team know on twitter, instagram, and facebook!
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