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Plague-predicting Japanese folklore creature resurfaces amid coronavirus chaos

An information panel on Amabie, a Japanese folklore "yokai" creature, is on display near the entrance of the Mizuki Shigeru Kinenkan museum in the city of Sakaiminato, Tottori Prefecture, on March 19, 2020. (Mainichi/Haruno Kosaka)

TOTTORI -- Amid the seemingly never-ending coronavirus crisis, a shining traditional Japanese folklore creature has resurfaced as a symbol of hope for some.

Amabie, a "yokai" character said to predict the coming of plagues, has recently been attracting popularity in Japan. Legend says that the creature -- which has a shimmering half-human, half-fish body with a beak -- appeared off what is now the coast of Kumamoto Prefecture, southwestern Japan, during the Edo period. It told people to share pictures of itself with others to drive away the plague, before vanishing into the sea.

On March 17, Mizuki Production, handling the works of late manga artist Shigeru Mizuki -- considered a master of the yokai genre -- posted on Twitter an image of Amabie he had drawn, with the message, "May the modern-day plague go away."

Following the tweet, several manga artists and illustrators including Chika Umino, Mari Okazaki and Toshinao Aoki posted their own drawings of the creature, praying for the pandemic to end. These posts are now overflowing with comments from fans, with one saying, "I want to use this as my smartphone wallpaper to prevent the spread (of the novel coronavirus)," and another reading, "It looks like it could also get rid of different kinds of viruses."

A bronze statue of Amabie, a Japanese folklore "yokai" creature, is seen in the town of Okinoshima, Shimane Prefecture, near the city of Sakaiminato, Shimane Prefecture. The statue is based on late manga artist Mizuki Shigeru's drawing of Amabie. (Photo courtesy of the Okinoshima Municipal Government)

Mizuki Shigeru Kinenkan museum, based in the city of Sakaiminato, Tottori Prefecture, western Japan -- the artist's birthplace -- is now constantly receiving inquiries about Amabie. Though an information panel on Amabie had been exhibited before in a section about traditional yokai in Japan, it was moved near the entrance to catch the eyes of visitors.

A 21-year-old third-year university student who visited the museum from the city of Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, western Japan, expressed concerns about the impact of the new coronavirus. "I'm worried it will have an effect on my job-hunting activities. I want Amabie to exert its power," she said.

Yukio Shoji, head of the museum, said, "It's so surprising that we're getting feedback from not just young people but also the elderly. It may have to do with its shiny, sparkly looks, which leave an impression."

(Japanese original by Haruno Kosaka, Tottori Bureau)

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