We might have found the first-ever influencer here in Japan, in records dating back 1200 years ago, and images from the late 19th century. This long-haired, bird-beaked, scale-covered, three-legged yokai monster sounds like something you wouldn’t ever want to lay your eyes upon – but you totally should. Legend has it that seeing a drawing of this yokai named Amabie will cure or protect a person from any disease. The creature itself is said to have asked to be drawn and shared around – what is known today as an ‘Instagram shout-out.’ Now that the 2020 plague has rolled around, and social media enables sharing more easily than ever, the Japanese internet got flooded with the likeness of Amabie. Before you dismiss it as an internet joke, even the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare of Japan has printed Amabie Covid19 posters.
Tokyo Survival Channel has challenged me to jump on that Amabie bandwagon belatedly but with full force – drawing Amabie in 12 different ways in the span of only 24 hours. In Phase 1 of the challenge, I had to use anything and everything at my disposal to create the likeness of Amabie myself. In Phase 2, I was to make the antivirus yokai go viral by inviting people to recreate my recreations—an #Amabieception if you will.
So come and feast your eyes on Amabie cuteness – who knows, maybe it will even keep you safe and healthy!
A simple, obvious, expected start of the challenge—the legend instructs people to draw Amabie, so I drew mine on paper. Now, I am neither a good artist nor a patient one. Furthermore, I am not a shortcut taker so no tracing for me. What I am is someone who eagerly accepts challenges with significant time constraints. I did a quick drawing of the original ukiyo-e Amabie print, then an updated one with a mask and disinfectant spray. Trying to be more cheeky I also imagined Amabie appearing on that world-famous Hokusai wave, and Amabie wearing a kimono.
Self-assessment: 1 star for quality, 4 stars for trying.
Commission an Artist to Draw Amabie
No one said I had to only draw Amabie myself, so I commissioned a pro illustrator to do it for me. To make things complicated, he had never seen Amabie and I asked him not to search for it online. Instead, I described it to him as if it was a missing person.
Simon decided to double down and draw two Amabie twins – a cute kawaii one and a scary kowai one. I swear I never mentioned teeth in my missing yokai description, so this is a great example of artistic freedom.
You can see Simon Kalajdjiev’s artwork here:
Self-assessment: 5 stars to myself for involving pros in this.
Phase 2: Challenge Other Artists
To keep sharing the image, we challenged two other professionals to draw Amabie and share it on social media. The illustrator Masayoshi B. L. Ninomiya based his monster on both Amabie and a Brazilian bird called Urutau (left), while author/artist Santashi Finn drew a gorgeous pastel Amabie mermaid (right).
Merging my daily life and my Amabie challenge, I decided to draw the yokai on my breakfast. In Japan, ‘playing with your food’ is quite encouraged—life is all about cute bento lunch boxes, beautifully sculpted traditional foods, themed restaurants, and cafes. Drawing a quick ketchup smiley face on omurice is the least you can do. In the spirit of kawaii, I drew Amabie with ketchup, mayo, carrot, and spinach on top of my breakfast.
Self-assessment: 3 stars for looks, 5 stars for taste. Not a morsel was wasted!
Phase 2: Challenge an Omelet Foodie Insta
Omelettebae is an eggy Insta account that accepted my omelet challenge, then improved upon it. Being primarily a sea creature, Amabie’s cucumber hair is reminiscent of algae. Adding bread made this into a full meal—as expected from the omelet aficionados.
CAPTION: Competition for who gets to eat the omelet. Spoiler alert: the dog won.
Amabie Word Art
Taking the yokai closer to my creative realm of words and visual poetry, I tried to paint its likeness with words. Literally. It was fun to swim in familiar waters after my horrendous drawing attempt. After playing around with several online word-art generators, I also made a hand-drawn Amabie composed solely of the word ‘amabie’.
Self-assessment: 4 out of 5 stars. Could be improved.
Phase 2: Challenge a Fellow Wordsmith
Wakana Goto, a translator and haiku poet, took on this challenge and gave it her own spin. Instead of word art, she went the classic way of the haiku, while also being a little bit meta. I think I can now safely brag that poetry has been written about me.
チリの春 友からチャレンジ受け取りし (チリのはる ともからチャレンジうけとりし)
Springtime in Chile
got an Amabie Challenge
from my good friend
万緑や 皆の健康祈りけり (ばんりょくや みなのけんこう いのりけり)
Myriad green leaves
I pray for the health of
every single person
Yes, you read that right. I very gently and lightly pin-poked Amabie onto a banana, a perfect canvas that darkens with time. It reminded me of a Polaroid photo, so I took one. The easiest, most fun Amabie drawing in a challenge that was getting harder by the hour.
Self-assessment: Not going to even try to stay humble – 5 stars!
Phase 2: Challenge a Fellow Banana
My friend Edith, a scientist and a fantasy author, often refers to herself as a banana when she misunderstands something. How appropriate that when I challenged her to draw Amabie on a banana she misunderstood in the best way possible and drew an awesome Amabie Dragon. No complaints on my part.
Time to raise the bar on this challenge—I kneaded and baked focaccia with an Amabie on top of it. The hair is made of swiss chard and spinach, the eyes are cherry tomato, scales are carrots and basil, and the beak is the tip of a yellow pepper. May all the pretty Instagram bread gods forgive me, but I’m trying to save everyone from a plague here, not pick a beauty queen.
Self-assessment: Ugly delicious.
Phase 2: Challenge Yeastie Boys & Gals to a Bread-Off
Everyone seems to be polishing their bread-making skills this year, but I decided to challenge fellow bread-enthusiast Eliakyn to an Amabie bread masterpiece. He made sourdough focaccia with peppers and zucchini for decoration.
Amabie Toast Art
Most of my Amabie drawings veered in the edible direction from here on, mostly because I did not want to be wasteful, but also to streamline meals in my 24-hour challenge without losing time. While I was baking one bread, I peanut-buttered another. Inspired by the new Instagram sensation Manami Sasaki and her toast art, I started building my sweet Amabie. Chocolate hair, jam for the eyes, apple beak, kiwi scales, and 3 cashews in lieu of legs. Hope Amabie protects from all illnesses, diabetes included.
Self-assessment: 4, because I can’t stop comparing it to the delicate toasts on Instagram.
Phase 2: Challenge an Insta Foodie
While we wait for Manami to come out with Amabie toast eventually, I challenged another foodie. Katie blogs about great food and her Instagram @thetastytraveller.kt is full of beautiful sweets. She is not afraid of challenges, as you can read all about her insect challenge, or our cooking battle.
Turns out she was way ahead of me. Katie had already made a Japanese wagashi sweet in the shape of Amabie with the help of Gallery Okubo who offer wagashi-making lessons. Stop and look for a moment—this is one of the cutest Amabie I have ever seen.
Amabie Avocado Toast
At this point, if I didn’t make an avocado toast, I would have been a shame to all millennials. I decided to limit myself to 99% avocado and add a bit of sesame, salt, and cucumber. It’s how I ended with this fat birdie.
Self-assessment: 2.5. Luckily the 3 legs of Amabie are so recognizable, otherwise this would have been just a budgie. I enjoyed eating it, though.
Phase 2: Challenge an Insta Foodie
Jessica Iragne, the social media manager of a major food tour company in Tokyo, loves avocado as much as I do. She also loves natto as much as most of us hate it. For those adventurous foodies reading this, trust her that avocado and natto is a winning combo. For a very Japanese take on avocado toast, she also added dry nori seaweed. Aaaaaand I think this is “Amabie meets Sadako from ‘The Ring’.”
Drinkable Amabie art was next on my 24hr challenge. I pulled an espresso shot, steamed some milk, and tried making latte art for the first time in my life.
Yes, of course, I failed.
Most of the foam sank, and I still desperately tried to draw Amabie, but it looked nothing like it. It’s like staring at the clouds, forcing yourself to find abstract shapes. If you squint, you might be able to see the Starbucks mermaid.
Self-assessment: Complete fail.
Phase 2: Challenge a Coffee Lover
I passed off this extra hard challenge to fellow writer and coffee lover Arturo, hoping he would be more successful. He wasn’t. However, after squinting and grasping for meaning, I am now convinced we’re seeing an apparition of Karl Marx.
Fast Forward to a week after the challenge, the straight-A student in me couldn’t stop thinking about my latte art fail. And then I had an a-ha moment. The trendy Dalgona coffee is whisked to such a solid fluff, it supported a chocolate sauce drawing of Amabie. So even if it doesn’t count a week later, here’s my improved Amabie latte art.
Pausing from edible and quite flat art, my next challenge was a miniature sculpture. I made a glam-looking Amabie out of play-dough.
Self-assessment: 4 – I’m no Michelangelo, but this, at least, is recognizable.
Phase 2: The ‘Pay it Forward’ Challenge
I invited all Instagram followers to join me in the Amabie challenge, and Nupur Singh enthusiastically accepted. Always ready for fun, she and her daughter made Amabie out of play-dough in no time, pretty much nailing it.
Amabie Pancake Art
Ending my challenge with the most tricky part I’d been postponing the whole time. I was making pancake/crepe art, an especially difficult task for someone who doesn’t even make plain pancakes. Lacking food coloring, I had to improvise—cocoa for the hair batter, turmeric for the nose and feet, and matcha for the scales. It was a clash of flavors that somehow worked together in the end, like a group project that barely gets a passing mark.
Self-assessment: Considering the complexity and my inexperience, I think I deserve top marks on this one.
Phase 2: Challenge Further
I know someone much better at making pancakes than me – my friend and language specialist Lily. This green thumb gives life to both plants and food. You can look at her beautiful plants here, and her exclusive fancy Amabie fruit pancake below:
In the midst of all the cooking, baking, and drawing, I dashed to the printer shop for one Amabie art item that would last. I ordered Amabie badges featuring Simon’s illustration and mailed them to friends so that Amabie’s healing face could reach even more people.
The sunrise found me drinking my second failed latte art and eating the Amabie pancake. In just 24 hours I had become an obsessed Amabie fan, accomplishing 12 artistic depictions of the yokai monster while also challenging 12 other people. If you, dear reader, decide to join us, let us know by using #AmabieChallengeTSC.
As I scrolled through social media one last time before collapsing in bed, I saw the Twitter storm over the new Osaka Expo logo. The Internet had dubbed it “Koroshite-kun”, loosely translated as “Mr. Kill-Me-Now,” or as I decided to call it, “K.I.B.I.L.E. Boy” (Kill It Before It Lays Eggs!). Another creature that everyone started drawing and sharing – but I’ll sit this one out and look at what others post.
Stay safe, healthy, and pass the viral antiviral Amabie along with #AmabieChallengeTSC!