Profiting from Polytheism: The Commodification of Mythical Beings During the Covid-19 Outbreak in Japan

Conference: The Asian Conference on Ethics, Religion & Philosophy (ACERP2022)
Title: Profiting from Polytheism: The Commodification of Mythical Beings During the Covid-19 Outbreak in Japan
Stream: Religion – Mysticism, Faith, and Scientific Culture
Presentation Type: Live-Stream Presentation
Antonija Cavcic, University of Shiga Prefecture, Japan


With their roots in animism and Shintōism, Japan’s mythical creatures known as yōkai have been feared, revered, and used to explain calamities or inexplicable phenomena. Needless to say, in the early stages of the Covid-19 outbreak and even now to some extent, very little was known about the origins of the virus, its potency, and how it could be prevented or treated effectively. Naturally, this threw most countries in the world into a state of confusion and Japan was no exception. However, as opposed to seeking answers from conspiracy theories to make sense of the unknown, Japan turned to Amabié(アマビエ)—a mermaid-like yōkai known for predicting either an impending epidemic or abundant harvest. While Amabié offers no explanation, advice or immediate help, it is believed that by recreating manifestations of its image, people can defend themselves against illness. Whether it was wishful thinking or simply a trend is debatable, but countless artists, city councils, product manufacturers, and shrines around the country all jumped onto the bandwagon of producing and promoting products with images of Amabié in 2020. Although their motives varied and a sense of hope certainly inspired the production and consumption of Amabié, in this presentation I argue that the profit factor was a major incentive for shrines and businesses who invested in the trend. I will demonstrate this by drawing upon previous research on the commodification of religion while providing examples of the commodification of Amabié by local, corporate and secular entities.

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