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.