Japanese artists fight Covid-19 with help of a legendary monster, upbeat DJ mixes and live-streamed temple rituals

This article appeared in South China Morning Post here.

From the legendary Japanese monster Amabie (pictured here on Instagram by artist Ikumi Nakada) to giant guardian statues, Japan is fighting back against the coronavirus with wishes of good luck, exercise and online prayers. Photo: Ikumi Nakada

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent declaration of a state of emergency in seven prefectures, the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and a sudden drop in tourism are all taking their toll on Japanese businesses as the country’s coronavirus cases continue to rise.

Far from giving up, though, the Japanese have reacted by finding creative ways to express their fight against the Covid-19 outbreak, from hosting digital ceremonies in famous shrines to the resurfacing of Japanese monsters on social media.

Amabie, a half-fish, half-human Japanese monster (yokai), first appeared during the Edo period (1603-1868) on a wood block print. The legend goes that if its picture was drawn and shown to people, natural disasters would come to an end.

On March 6, Kyoto University Library posted an image of the original 1846 print. People have since interpreted the monster in various forms and posted the results on social media with the hashtag #amabie.

Manga artist Seiichi Tokiwa drew a manga called Amabie is Coming about its appearance in modern times and posted it on Twitter. His post has garnered more than 39,000 likes.


Manga artist Seiichi Tokiwa’s Amabie manga post has garnered over 39,000 likes on Twitter. Photo: Seiichi Tokiwa

Makoto, an artist from Kyoto, has created sketches of Amabie on Instagram. “I created this design with the hope that the pandemic will end soon,” the artist says.


A sketch of Amabie on Instagram by Kyoto-based artist Makoto. Photo: Makoto

Ikumi Nakada’s illustrations are also on Instagram. “I hope the world will become safe soon and I will be able to meet my friends living in other countries again,” Nakada says.

Some artists are creating artwork with other motifs of good luck, like Megumi Fukura, a clay artist in Kyoto. “I hope my work will bring some good luck to the world right now,” she says of her figurines.

It’s not just visual artists that are flexing their creative muscles.

With music venues closed, and events cancelled, DJs are creating upbeat mixes that they are releasing on social media. Yukari BB, a DJ based between Kyoto and Tokyo, has created a spring wave mix. Masaki Tamura, who presents a monthly radio show for Worldwide FM, has compiled several lockdown playlists that he hopes people can enjoy from the comfort of their homes.

5.Kinpusenji Temple

Kinpusen-ji Temple live-streamed a ceremony on social media. Photo: Kinpusen-ji Temple

It isn’t just playlists and mixes, either – the pandemic has transformed how people take part in radio callisthenics, which are a part of daily life in Japanese society. First broadcast in 1928, rajio taiso are simple exercises broadcast a few times daily on NHK, Japan’s national broadcasting service.

Although the exercises are traditionally experienced as a communal exercise, many people working remotely or affected by school closures are doing them at home and posting about them on social media.

Shrines and temples in Japan have set up dedicated rituals in their efforts to rid the world of the coronavirus that can be watched or taken part in online. At Kinpusen-ji Temple, a Unesco World Heritage Site in Nara, a ritual was held in March to pray for the end of the outbreak. The temple live-streamed the ceremony on social media, and a form was set up on its website so people could submit their prayers online.


The appearance of two guardian statues at the gates of the Kyoto University of the Arts is a reflection of the country’s fight against the coronavirus. Photo: Kenryou Gu

One of the more unusual – and larger – expressions of prayer against the coronavirus in Japan is the appearance of two giant guardian statues at the gates of the Kyoto University of the Arts (KUA).

Weighing 200kg (440 pounds) and standing 3 metres (nearly 10 feet) tall, the imposing pair of “lion dogs” were first exhibited in 2019 outside Enryaku-ji Temple, a Unesco World Heritage Site on Mount Hiei, on the borders of Shiga and Kyoto.

“We hope these guardians will give people some hope during these dark times,” a representative of the university told the Post.

The majestic guardian beasts embody the university’s founding philosophy, the concept of “artistic nation”, as it aims to realise a better society through the power of art.

“The coronavirus is causing an atmosphere of social unrest and anxiety,” says artist Yanobe Kenji, who conceived and created the statues with the help of KUA students. “So we aspire to exhibit works that will motivate people and inspire them positively.”


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