A 174-Year-Old Japanese Woodblock Meme is Here to Fight COVID-19
Updated: Jun 30
In Japan, art and folklore are being weaponized against COVID-19, and a nearly 200-year-old meme is back.
Part human and part fish (and all around mermaid-ish), the creature known as the Amabie was first documented on a woodblock print in 1846. As The Japan Times recaps the legend, a man saw something shining in the waters near what is today Kumamoto Prefecture, and went to inspect. The Amabie emerged and announced, “There will be a bountiful harvest for six years, but disease will also spread. Quickly draw a picture of me and show it to the people”
Whether vanity or goodwill dictated its decree, it got its wish, and a local newspaper created the now-famous woodblock print to run with an article about the encounter.
The Amabie is a yokai, spirits that evolved from supernatural belief-based entities to folklore entertainment at some point between the 17th and 19th centuries.
In March, Kyoto University Library posted the original Amabie print—and it went viral (obligatory “no pun intended”), with users on every imaginable platform posting Amabie art in every imaginable medium under the #Amabiechallenge hashtag.
As Mie University professor Yuji Yamada told The Japan Times, “Japan has traditionally had a custom of trying to drive off epidemics by such means as drawing oni ogres on pieces of paper and displaying them. When many people are suffering and dying, our wish for an end (of the pandemic) is the same in all ages.”
Here are 16 Amabies to ward off COVID-19, from among the thousands circulating on social media.