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An amabie. Wood-block print, late Edo period. (link)

Amabie (アマビエ) is a legendary Japanese mermaid or merman with three legs, who allegedly emerges from the sea and prophesies either an abundant harvest or an epidemic.

It appears to be a variant of the amabiko (アマビコ, 海彦, 尼彦, 天日子, 天彦, あま彦, also amahiko), otherwise known as the amahiko-nyūdo (尼彦入道), and arie (アリエ), which are depicted as ape-like, bird-like, or torso-less (cephalopod-like), and usually 3-legged.


An amabie appeared in Higo Province (Kumamoto Prefecture) according to legend, around the middle of the fourth month, in the year Kōka-3 (mid-May 1846) in the Edo period. A glowing object had been spotted in the sea, almost on a nightly basis. The town's official went to the coast to investigate and witnessed the amabie. According to the sketch made by this official, it had long hair, a mouth like bird's bill, was covered in scales from the neck down and three-legged. Addressing the official, it identified itself as an amabie and told him that it lived in the open sea. It went on to deliver a prophecy: "Good harvest will continue for six years from the current year;[a] if disease spreads, draw a picture of me and show the picture of me to those who fall ill and they will be cured." Afterward, it returned to the sea. The story was printed in the kawaraban [ja] (woodblock-printed bulletins), where its portrait was printed, and this is how the story disseminated in Japan.[1][2]

Amabiko group[edit]

Amabiko (尼彦) seen in Higo, painting, property of Kōichi Yumoto [ja]

There is only one unique record of an amabie, whose meaning is uncertain. It has been conjectured that this amabie was simply a miscopying of "amabiko",[b] a yōkai creature that can be considered identical.[2][3] Like the amabie, the amabiko is a multi-legged prophesizing creature which prescribes the display of its artistic likeness to defend against sickness or death.

There are at least 9 accounts of amabiko or amahiko (尼彦) (var. Japanese: 海彦, 天彦) extant (counting the amabie).[4] Four describe appearances in Higo Province, one report the Amabiko Nyūdo (尼彦入道, "the amahiko monk") in neighboring Hyuga Province (Miyazaki prefecture).[c] Beyond those clustered in the south, two are localized in Echigo Province in the north.[6][2][d][e]

Torso-less version: An illustrated manuscript of an 1844 encounter in Echigo[f] depicts a rather cephalopod-like amabiko consisting of a head with three long appendages growing out of it, and hardly any torso. It has "short hair growing from its whole body including its face, with human-like ears, round eyes and a slightly protruding mouth". The creature doomed the death 70% of the Japanese population that year, which could be averted with its picture-ward.[7]

Ape-like version: An ape-like amabiko (尼彦) of Higo Province appears in one painting owned by Kōichi Yumoto [ja],[8] an authority in the study of this yōkai.[9] Its text relates that ape voices heard by night was tracked down by one Shibata Hikozaemon, who discovered this amabiko.[10] Yumoto insists this painting depicts a quadruped.[2][11] But there were also mass-printed copies of ape-like amabiko, with very similar accompanying text,[g] seen as having just 3 legs, as reported by the Yūbin Hōchi Shinbun [ja]'s article dated 10 June 1876.[10] The texts of both identify the sighting of the ape-like creature at Mana-kōri[?] (眞字郡), a non-existent county in Higo Province.[12][h]

Amabiko-no-mikoto: The Amabiko-no-mikoto (天日子尊, the holy Amabiko) was spotted in a rice paddy in Yuzawa, Niigata, as reported by the Tokyo Nichinichi shinbun [ja] dated 8 August 1875.[3] The crude newspaper illustration depicts a daruma doll-like, hairless-looking four-legged creature.[11] This example stands out since it was discovered not in the sea but in a wet ricefield, it professed to serve the heavenly gods (of Shinto), and was conferred the imperial/divine title of "-mikoto".[14]

Arie: A similar creature named arie (アリエ) appeared in "Aotori-kōri" county, Higo Province, according to the Kōfu Nichinichi Shimbun[i] newspaper dated 17 June 1876, although this report has been debunked by another paper.[j][16]

Similar yōkai[edit]

Yamawarawa (山童)

The yamawarawa (山童, the mountain child) in the folklore of Amakusa is believed to haunt the mountains. Although neither of these last two emerge from sea, other similarities such as prophesying indicate they belong to the same kind.[2][3]

There are various other yōkai creatures that are vastly different in appearance, but have the ability to predict, such as the kudan [ja], the jinjahime [ja] or "shrine princess", the hōnen game (豊年亀) or "bumper crop year turtle", and the "turtle woman".[2]

A tradition in the West ascribes every creature of the sea with the ability to foretell the future, and there is no scarcity of European legends about merfolk bringing prophecy. For this reason, the amabie is considered to be a type of mermaid, in some quarters. But since the amabie is credited with the ability to repel pestilence as well, it should be considered as more of a deity according to some.[17]


The STOP! Kansen Kakudai – COVID-19 is a poster by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.[18]

During the COVID-19 epidemic, amabie became a popular topic on Twitter in Japan. Manga artists (e.g. Chica Umino, Mari Okazaki and Toshinao Aoki) published their cartoon versions of amabie on social networks.[19] The Twitter account of Orochi Do, an art shop specializing in hanging scrolls of yōkai, is said to have been the first, tweeting "a new coronavirus countermeasure" in late February 2020.[20]

See also[edit]


Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ Murakami (2000) reads "six months from the current year (当年より六ヶ月)" (quoted in Nagano (2005), p. 4), but Nagano (2005), p. 25 prints the entire text and reads "six years from the current year (當年より六ヶ年)".
  2. ^ the Japanese letters ko () and e () being nearly interchangeably similar.
  3. ^ The amabiko of Hyuga was painted as an old man with bird-like body and 9-legs (another painting owned by Yumoto)[5]
  4. ^ There is one other report of a Amabiko Nyūdo (天彦入道) picture amulets were pasted around the time of the Satsuma Rebellion in the environs of Hiraka, Akita according to local man Denichirō Terada, in his piece Yasoō danwa (八十翁談話) (Nagano (2005), p. 6, 25 and note (26)).
  5. ^ The last is from the Tokyo Akebono Shimbun article 20 October 1881 that reports amabiko appearing "far out in the western sea".
  6. ^ This is the oldest datable record. It is known as the Tsubokawa manuscript (坪川本), now in the possession of the Fukui Prefectural Library (福井県立図書館).
  7. ^ Except written out entirely in hiragana
  8. ^ Another nonexistent county in Higo Province is Aonuma-kōri (青沼郡), named as the amabiko sighting spot by various "other newspapers" according to the Nagano Shimbun article dated 22 June 1876 (Nagano (2005), pp. 25) The mention of Kumamoto Prefecture dates the text to post-1871 when the prefectural system was instituted.[13]
  9. ^ Now the Yamanashi Nichinichi Shimbun [ja].
  10. ^ The county by the name of "Aoshima-gun" does not exist there, and the news was pronounced "fanciful" by the Nagano Shimbun dated 30 June 1876.[15]


  1. ^ Nagano (2005), pp. 24, 4–6.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Yumoto (2005), pp. 71–88
  3. ^ a b c Yumoto 1999, pp. 178–180
  4. ^ Nagano (2005).
  5. ^ Nagano (2005), p. 10 and p. 22, fig.7.
  6. ^ Nagano (2005), pp. 8, 24–26.
  7. ^ Nagano (2005), pp. 4–8 and fig. 2 on p. 21.
  8. ^ Nagano (2005), pp. 4–8, 24.
  9. ^ Nagano (2005), p. 4.
  10. ^ a b Nagano (2005), p. 24.
  11. ^ a b Nagano (2005), p. 6.
  12. ^ Nagano (2005), p. 8.
  13. ^ Nagano (2005), p. 9.
  14. ^ Nagano (2005), p. 7.
  15. ^ Yumoto, Kōichi (湯本豪一), ed. (2001). Chihō hatsu Meiji yōkai nyūsu 地方発明治妖怪ニュース (in Japanese). Kashiwa Shobo. pp. 174–175. ISBN 978-4-7601-2089-5.
  16. ^ Nagano (2005), p. 8 and note (44).
  17. ^ 水木しげる [Mizuki, Shigeru] (1994). Zusetsu yōkai taizen 図説 日本妖怪大全. Kodansha +α bunko (in Japanese). Kodansha. p. 50. ISBN 978-4-06-256049-8.
  18. ^ 厚生労働省『STOP! 感染拡大――COVID-19』2020年。
  19. ^ "Plague-predicting Japanese folklore creature resurfaces amid coronavirus chaos".
  20. ^ Alt, Matt (9 April 2020). "From Japan, a Mascot for the Pandemic". New Yorker. New York. Retrieved 9 April 2020.