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Southwest Japan 'virtual country' sells stickers of anti-epidemic folklore character

A sticker featuring the Amabie Japanese folklore character and created by the "New State of Yamatai" city revitalization group, is seen in Usa, Oita Prefecture, on June 10, 2020. (Mainichi/Katsuyuki Miyamoto)

USA, Oita -- A group working to revitalize this southwestern Japan city has made 1,000 stickers featuring the Amabie, a Japanese folklore creature said to drive away epidemics, and is selling them at cost.

The "New State of Yamatai" group, named after an ancient country of Japanese legend, resumed operations after a 10-year hiatus to snap the city out of the depressed mood caused by the novel coronavirus. The Amabie is a mystical "yokai" similar in appearance to a mermaid. It originates in the Edo period (1603-1868), and has enjoyed a popular resurgence since the virus struck Japan.

The "Yamatai" group was established in 1977 after locals were inspired by a novel which suggested that the legendary kingdom was located in Usa. Its members regard themselves as citizens of a virtual independent country, and their activities won them the Suntory Prize for Community Cultural Activities in 1986. The group suspended its operations after it held a convention to discuss the mysteries of the State of Yamatai in 2010.

Yoshihiro Takahashi, 68, the president of the "new state" and municipal assembly member who runs a tourist facility with a restaurant and shop at the main approach to the Usa Jingu Shrine, said, "We want to fight together against the virus. It's also to encourage myself, because (my business) has been hit by the pandemic, too."

Each round sticker with the Amabie illustration, measuring 9 centimeters in diameter, is priced at 30 yen. People can also buy the sticker by mail. For inquiries, call Takahashi at 090-3198-5376 (in Japanese).

(Japanese original by Katsuyuki Miyamoto, Usa Local Bureau)

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