Japanese artists flood social media with folk art said to ward off epidemics

Whether it’s people singing at their balconies or Germany offering one million masks to Italy, we’ve seen some remarkable shows of solidarity in the face of adversity. In Japan, artists are turning to ancient spirits said to ward off epidemics to show support against the coronavirus.

“If an epidemic occurs, draw a picture of me”

Edo-era engraving from Kyoto University Main Library, Kyoto University, widely shared on Japanese social media.

According to Japanese folklore, the yokai are supernatural spirits, demons mentioned in texts for centuries, especially during the Edo Period (1603-1868).

Yokai are said to have supernatural powers and are the personifications of “supernatural or unaccountable phenomena to their informants.”

by illustrator Satake Shunske

Some yokai do good things, some do bad things, others are just whimsical spirits. In particular, one of them called Amabie (アマビエ) is said to prophesize or ward against an epidemic.

Amabie is a mermaid or merman with 3 legs. He/she also knows when a bountiful harvest will happen.

via This is Colossal

According to an Edo-period tile block print dated to 1846, Amabie first appeared in the sea by modern-day Kumamoto Prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu.

Amabie appeared in April, predicting a bountiful harvest for the next six years. The imposing apparition also said: “If an epidemic spreads, draw a picture of me and show it to everyone.” This is exactly what some artists in Japan are doing.

Some phone backgrounds designed by tettetextile.

This shouldn’t be interpreted as a religious call for help — it’s a show of solidarity more than anything else. Drawing from their own folklore, Japanese artists created an image of solidarity, which is extremely important in such trying times.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to take its toll (and will likely do so for months), it’s important to stay united and motivated against the challenge. Amabie, at least, is on our side.

Here are some of our favorite depictions of Amabie. All the artists did a fantastic job!

Feel free to share them accordingly.

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