A mysterious two-headed bird depicted in a Japanese diary dating from more than a century ago has caught the attention of people yearning for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, with its image going viral online and inspiring merchandise from rice crackers to T-shirts.
The bird, called “yogen no tori,” introduced by the Yamanashi Prefectural Museum to the public in April, is said to have prophesied a cholera outbreak that swept through Japan in the late 19th century and offered protection to those who prayed to it.
The bird with two heads, one black and the other white, is noted in a journal written in 1858 by an official named Kizaemon in a village located in what is now the city of Yamanashi.
Kizaemon wrote that the strange bird appeared in central Japan in what is now Ishikawa Prefecture and prophesied a “crisis where 90 percent of the world will die in August and September.”
The diary also said that the bird would protect those who prayed to it.
A cholera epidemic, which the museum notes broke out in Nagasaki in southwestern Japan, arrived in Kizaemon’s area, killing many people in the two months, leading him to write, “It is truly God’s power and a strange prophecy.”
A 40-year-old curator tweeted a picture of the journal entry and image of the bird in early April, when the museum was closed as a precaution due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus in many parts of Japan.
As the bird attracted a huge public response and led to many requests from businesses, the museum decided to allow the image to be used for commercial purposes.
The image has become so popular that the Sashidenoiso Daitakesan shrine in the city of Yamanashi said it had given worshippers 700 to 800 pieces of washi paper and shuin (red seal stamps) featuring the bird in the two weeks from May 7.
Sanshu Seika Co.’s factory, in Kasukabe, Saitama Prefecture, which specializes in sweets has been also selling Japanese crackers bearing the bird’s image.
The bird’s popularity follows public enthusiasm in the past few months for Amabie, another legendary Japanese “yōkai” monster depicted as half-human and half-fish featured in a 19th century woodblock-printed news sheet from the Edo Era (1603-1868).
Drawings of the beaky and long-haired creature, which is said to have emerged from the sea and prophesied an epidemic, have also gone viral, while commercial goods based on it have become popular.