Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Bigger the Catfish, The Bigger the Quake...

Namazu-e... Catfish prints

...but of course, you knew that.  Namazu (catfish) anciently symbolized disorder, then gradually a specific kind of disorder-- earthquakes.  The rumbling and shaking of an earthquake was said to be caused by thrashing catfish deep below in the mud (well-- it makes a certain amount of theoretical sense... sort of... vaguely... in a folklore-ish kind of way).

Great Ansei Edo Earthquake, 1855

Following the third of three great earthquakes known collectively as the "Ansei Daijishin" of 1854-55 (Great Ansei Earthquakes-- Ansei was the name of the era, as "Heisei" is now), woodblock prints of the quake destruction were produced.  But far more popular were the "Namazu-e", catfish prints, which became a way of venting at the gods (Kashima, who fell down on the job of restraining the catfish),the politicians, and the wealthy (the Namazu qua earthquake became a symbol of  the redistribution of wealth-- "Yonaoshi", or 'World Rectification').

Pink Tentacle has a great article with *lots* of prints... go have a look!  He's found zillions of beautiful Namazu-e (nice and clear, too).


  1. Fascinating. And for some reason, it reminded me of the ubiquitous use of octopuses in political maps.

  2. It does, rather, doesn't it! Possibly for similar reasons-- the namazu-e were also veiled political comments and got outlawed by the government, which is why there aren't very many of them now. (The Pink Tentacle article or the Wiki article goes into that aspect in more detail).

    Oh, and--cool link, thanks!