In times of crisis, when neither logic nor leaders answer questions, assail fears or comfort the suffering, people naturally turn to the reassuring myths and legends of their ancestors and religions. The ironically named but little known (until now) Saint Corona is a patron saint in the Catholic Church of those who fight epidemics. Japan, with its long and rich history of folklore, has many supernatural monsters and spirts that can be malevolent while at the same time be good. One such “Yokai” is Amabie, a scary-sounding three-tailed mermaid is also a defender of the sick and fighter of epidemics. Do they know each other?
“If an epidemic occurs, draw a picture of me and show it to everyone.”
Like St. Corona, Amabie has been largely forgotten in modern times, even though its origin story is fairly recent. The most popular account is from May of 1846 when an official in Higo Province saw a glowing light over the sea. When he investigated, he witnessed a creature in the water with long hair, a bird-like beak, scales from the neck down and wither three legs or three tails. mouth like bird’s bill, was covered in scales from the neck down, and three-legged. The creature identified itself as an amabie, predicted a good harvest and told him to draw its picture, show it to anyone who was sick and they would be cured.
The official drew the picture, had it printed on a paper with the prediction and instructions and the myth was born. Experts in Japanese folklore say the amabie resembles the amabiko, which has a similar appearance, predictions and benefits to the ill.
“I drew this Amabie with the intention to remind others to stay calm and never lose hope at times when we feel like giving up.”
In these times of fear and despair, artists are often ignored or discounted as unnecessary and not as important as doctors, caregivers and government officials. That’s why artists in Japan have resurrected the story of the amabie, painting pictures of it to distribute online as well as in print for old-schoolers who like holding a physical talisman. Nice collections of amabie illustrations can be seen here and here. There’s no indication as to whether the pictures must be printed or can be waved over a sick person while displayed on a smartphone, but it can’t hurt … provided the person is also under the care of medical officials first.
For those who are interested, pictures of Saint Corona and her story can be seen here.
Yes, this epidemic/pandemic needs treatments, preventions and tools for recovery. But those living in the dark – both literally and figuratively – need comforting and psychological aids that myths, prayers and art can bring. Even if it’s a picture of a three-tailed, bird-faced mermaid.