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Amabié (pronounced a-ma-bee-ay), a legendary mermaid-like creature who is said to emerge from the sea to prophesize good harvests and epidemics,1 is trending in Japan as a popular symbol of the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
The image has been part of Japanese culture since 1846 when in Higo Province (today’s Kumamoto Prefecture),1 according to legend, an unnamed officer went to investigate a strange light that had been appearing at sea. The officer encountered the strange creature who explained, “I live in the sea. My name is Amabié. Good harvest will continue for six years. At the same time disease will spread. Draw me and show me to the people as soon as possible,” before submerging. The official left a charming sketch and the story was printed and disseminated in kawaraban (woodblock-printed bulletins that were a kind of newspaper of the time featuring news, outrageous gossip, and rumors).2
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Furukawa Y, Kansaku R. Amabié—A Japanese Symbol of the COVID-19 Pandemic. JAMA. Published online July 17, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.12660
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