Japanese Artists’ Responses to COVID-19
A Mass Revival of the yōkai Amabie
Keywords:yōkai, Amabie, COVID-19, art, folklore, popularization
Artists are responding very differently to the COVID-19 around the world. In Japan, this has been manifested in artistic production of the mythical creature called Amabie, one of the yōkai. Most often, it appears as a mermaid, with both animal and human features recognizable by its three limbs, long hair, beak-like mouth and body covered by scales. This is a mythical character which, according to legend, allegedly predicted the plague and advised people to share drawings of its image with each other, thus protecting them from diseases. The character was documented for the first time in 1846 in one of the early kawaraban newspapers.
This paper presents a new wave of Amabie that overran social media when COVID-19 seriously affected Japan. The author focuses on the world of art, where the character distinctly stepped to the fore, and examines the characteristics of Amabie’s interpretation by selected artists. One of the first to attract special attention in this respect is the artist Shigeru Mizuki (1922–2015), a master of the yōkai genre, whose comic book featuring Amabie was revived in the midst of the pandemic. He was followed by other illustrators, designers and artists or groups of artists. Utilization of the character of Amabie as a talisman, however, is specific not only of the artists’ domain. The mass popularization of the character, including drawings, puppets, paper sculptures, costumes, sweets, tattoos and the like can be followed through all kinds of social media. The paper attempts to lay stress on the phenomenon of the struggle of Japanese society with COVID-19 through the prism of popularizing Amabie folklore, which has become in the last few months an internet meme and mascot of pop culture that has spread around the entire world.
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