Research continuum

In Covid’s wake

Ripples of the pandemic can be found throughout this issue: little has been left untouched by Covid-19 during the past year. Briefly, two additional coronavirus items related to KyotoU.

Feeling a strong need to do something to document the crisis, in early spring 2020 the University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies launched a special site devoted to on-the-ground accounts of life during the outbreak. Still accepting submissions at the time this magazine goes to print, the site has grown to encompass myriad views of life throughout Asia, trapped in the grip of this grim shared experience.

Coeditor and Center faculty member Mario Lopez says, “As with others, CSEAS has been deeply impacted by this unprecedented event. With this site we aim to present different perspectives and voices from Southeast Asia and the other regions where our researchers work. We don’t limit these solely to academic analysis, but also welcome nuanced commentary from writers, filmmakers, journalists, health care experts, and others.”

See Corona Chronicles: Voices from the Field

As mythical beasts go, the amabie(àma’bí’é) that reputedly appeared off of the coast of Higo (modern Kumamoto, on the southern island of Kyushu) during Japan’s feudal era was already relatively cute: certainly much more so than the older amabiko it was said to resemble.

But along with its appearance, its prophecy of good harvests and advice to draw its picture and show this to those stricken by contagion seemed to somehow fit perfectly with an era where artists on social media are constantly seeking the latest meme to spark their imaginations. Early in the pandemic, word began to spread that a period news flyer in the archives of KyotoU’s main library depicted this miraculous messenger, and a movement was born. (Original in black and white; other images are from a summer 2020 exhibition of artwork inspired by the apparition.)

KyotoU and HeidelbergU scholar of modern Japanese culture Björn-Ole Kamm says of the meme, “The practice of fighting fire with fire somehow matches the spread of amabie as a countermeasure against the new coronavirus (or at least against the flood of depressing pandemic news). The once obscure Edo-period anti-plague yôkai jumped as a meme from one medium to the next, inspiring ever more people to copy, imitate, recreate, and remodel the beaked, once three-legged monkey into a cute mermaid. In memetics — the study of memes — these symbolic entities are characterized as viral phenomena that propagate and mutate, being transmitted from one host to the next. Even though a water creature, let’s see if the virus-like meme amabie’s fire prevails against Covid’s.”