Social media users have been getting creative recently with images of a legendary Japanese yōkai monster said to have emerged from the sea and prophesied an epidemic.

Many depictions of the monster have been uploaded alongside messages wishing for a swift end to the spread of COVID-19.

The story of the half-human, half-fish amabie monster was first featured in a 19th century woodblock-printed news sheet from the Edo Period (1603-1868). The creature was depicted with long hair and a beak, and a body covered in scales.

An amabie is said to have appeared in the sea off Higo Province, now Kumamoto Prefecture, and told an official, “There will be a bountiful harvest for six years, but disease will also spread. Quickly draw a picture of me and show it to the people” before disappearing back into the waters.

The official had gone to the coast after seeing something shining in the waters every evening, according to the legend.

On March 6, Kyoto University Library posted on its Twitter account a picture of the original news sheet, dated April 1846, with an illustration of an amabie and a description beside it. The document is in its digital archive.

Since then, social media users have posted amabie images in myriad forms — including clay figurines, embroidery, paper cutouts and manga — alongside phrases wishing for an early end to the current pandemic.

On March 20, a video of Kumamoto’s iconic bear-like mascot, Kumamon, dressed as an amabie appeared on the character’s official Instagram account.

A drawing of the monster by late manga artist Shigeru Mizuki (1922-2015), known for his works featuring Japanese yōkai, was also published on the Mizuki Production Twitter account on March 17.

“I hope we can get away from this disaster soon,” his daughter Naoko Haraguchi said.

“Japan has traditionally had a custom of trying to drive off epidemics by such means as drawing oni ogres on pieces of paper and displaying them,” said Yuji Yamada, a professor at Mie University who is well versed in the history of faith practices in Japan.

“When many people are suffering and dying, our wish for an end (of the pandemic) is the same in all ages,” he said.

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