26
Aug
11

Namazu-e: Earthquake catfish prints

In November 1855, the Great Ansei Earthquake struck the city of Edo (now Tokyo), claiming 7,000 lives and inflicting widespread damage. Within days, a new type of color woodblock print known as namazu-e (lit. “catfish pictures”) became popular among the residents of the shaken city. These prints featured depictions of mythical giant catfish (namazu) who, according to popular legend, caused earthquakes by thrashing about in their underground lairs. In addition to providing humor and social commentary, many prints claimed to offer protection from future earthquakes.

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
1. Earthquake victims take revenge on the giant catfish responsible for the destruction [+]

The popularity of namazu-e exploded, and as many as 400 different types became available within weeks. However, the namazu-e phenomenon abruptly ended two months later when the Tokugawa government, which ordinarily maintained a strict system of censorship over the publishing industry, cracked down on production. Only a handful are known to survive today.

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Namazu-e earthquake catfish picture --
2. Namazu and the kaname-ishi rock [+]

Namazu are normally kept under control by the god Kashima using a large rock known as kaname-ishi. The Great Ansei Earthquake of 1855 is said to have occurred when Kashima went out of town and left Ebisu (god of fishing and commerce) in charge. In this print, the giant subterranean catfish unleashes destruction on the city while Ebisu sleeps on the job. Kashima rushes home on horseback while the city burns, and Raijin the thunder god defecates drums. Large gold coins fall from the sky, symbolizing the redistribution of wealth during the rebuilding phase.

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Catfish ukiyoe print --
3. Tug-of-war between namazu and the god Kashima [+]

This print shows a namazu engaged in a fierce game of “neck tug-of-war” with the god Kashima. A group of earthquake victims root for Kashima, while those who typically profit from earthquakes (construction workers, firemen, news publishers, etc.) root for the catfish.

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Catfish ukiyo-e print --
4. Ancient catfish (Artists: Kyosai Kawanabe and Robun Kanagaki)

Produced two days after the earthquake, this work by Kyosai Kawanabe and Robun Kanagaki is considered the first namazu-e catfish print. The picture, which makes reference to a popular kabuki play of the era, inspired the creation of many namazu-e prints to follow.

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Woodblock print of earthquake catfish --
5. Magical method of earthquake protection [+]

This protective print, which claims to prevent earthquake damage to one’s home if attached to the ceiling, shows a group of remorseful catfish apologizing to the god Kashima for causing earthquakes while he was away.

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Namazu-e ukiyo-e picture --
6. Catfish family

This print shows a mob of earthquake victims coming to take revenge on a namazu and its children.

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Namazue ukiyoe print --
7. For peace and tranquility [+]

In this print, which claims to offer protection from earthquakes, the god Kashima and prostitutes from the Yoshiwara red-light district express their anger toward the catfish responsible for earthquakes.

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
8. Namazu saviors

Some prints show the benevolent side of namazu. Here, they are seen rescuing people from the rubble.

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Namazu-e mythical catfish print --
9. Daikoku, the popular god of wealth, restrains a namazu and showers people with money [+]

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
10. Kashima restrains a namazu using the kaname-ishi rock

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
11. Kashima, kaname-ishi, and namazu [+]

In this print, the god Kashima is pictured in the top right corner. The kaname-ishi rock, portrayed as a person, stands on the head of the catfish, while a crowd of people try to subdue the giant beast. The people on the left who are not helping subdue the catfish include construction workers and others who typically profit from earthquakes.

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
12. Earthquake hand game

This print is a reference to the old Japanese saying, “The most frightening things are earthquakes, thunder, fires, and fathers.” Here, a namazu plays janken (paper-rock-scissors) with the gods of thunder and fire while an elderly man (father) looks on.

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
13. Earthquakes, thunder, fires and fathers [+]

This print also makes reference to the old Japanese saying, “The most frightening things are earthquakes, thunder, fires, and fathers.” Here, a namazu and the gods of thunder and fire discuss their powers over a fish dinner while a middle-aged man (father) looks on.

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
14. Tipsiness following the great namazu [+]

In this print, the god Kashima stabs his sword into the throat of the namazu, which is laid out on a giant table. The crowd of onlookers is divided into two groups. The people in the top half of the picture are labeled as “smiling” (those who benefit from the earthquake) and the people at the bottom are labeled as “weeping” (those who are harmed by the earthquake). The top group includes a carpenter, a plasterer, a lumber salesman, a blacksmith and a roofer, as well as an elite courtesan, an ordinary prostitute, a physician, and sellers of ready-to-eat foods. The bottom group includes a teahouse proprietor, an eel seller, various entertainers such as musicians, comedians and storytellers, a seller of luxury goods, a diamond seller, and a seller of imported goods.

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
15. Prosperity of the Ansei era [+]

This print, which shows a namazu punishing a rich man and a famous actor, illustrates a popular theory that the gods deliberately allowed the earthquake to happen in order to rectify some of the imbalances in the world.

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
16. Namazu attacked by the citizens of Edo [+]

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
17. Catfish and construction workers partying in the Yoshiwara red-light district, pt. 1 [+]

This print depicts a crowd of namazu and newly prosperous construction workers living it up at a parlor house in the Yoshiwara pleasure district.

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
18. Catfish and construction workers partying in the Yoshiwara red-light district, pt. 2 [+]

This print also shows carpenters, plasterers and roofers drinking and making merry in the Yoshiwara pleasure district while a namazu is restrained with a gourd.

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
19. The earthquake and a “million prayers” [+]

This print depicts a namazu as a priest seated inside a giant rosary. The creature does not want to cause any more earthquakes, but the “worshipers” — tradesmen such as lumber dealers and carpenters who profit from the disaster — are praying for it to act up again. The ghosts of earthquake victims float overhead.

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
20. Earthquake catfish and world rectification [+]

In this print, a group of construction workers pay respect to the namazu for helping them strike it rich.

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
21. The shaking of greater Edo [+]

This print shows a massive steamship-like namazu approaching the city. The creature is spouting money, and people on shore beckon for it to come closer. The depiction of this namazu conjures up images of Commodore Perry’s black ships, which arrived in Japan in 1853 and eventually forced the country to open its ports to Western commerce.

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
22. The perpetrators of three big quakes captured alive [+]

In this print, the god Kashima has captured the catfish responsible for the major earthquakes in Shinshu, Edo, and Odawara. A carpenter, fireman, plasterer and roofer try to persuade the god to release the catfish, saying the creatures have apologized enough. The unforgiving Kashima sentences the fish to be cooked in a nabe stew.

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
23. Namazu of Edo and Shinshu

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
24. Ebisu apologizes [+]

In this print, Ebisu (god of fishing and commerce) apologizes to Kashima for falling asleep on the job after drinking. The catfish leader is also apologizing, saying it was the thoughtless ones that went wild.

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
25. Peace in the Ansei era

This print shows the god Kashima using the kaname-ishi to subdue the namazu responsible for the recent earthquakes.

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
26. Namazu is wrestled into submission and placed under the kaname-ishi rock [+]

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
27. Ridgepole raising

This print shows a group of namazu construction workers erecting the kanji character 平 (hira), which can symbolize “peace.”

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
28. A man entertains a namazu [+]

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
29. People inspect a namazu picture

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
30. Monster namazu in the storehouse [+]

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
31. Gourd and catfish

In this print, a namazu tries to help a comrade escape from a trap by handing it a gourd. The image is a reference to the old Japanese expression “gourd and catfish” (meaning “slippery” or “elusive”), which originates from a famous 15th-century Zen painting of a man trying to catch a catfish with a gourd.

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
32. Mob takes revenge on a namazu [+]

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
33. Catching a catfish with a gourd (Artist: Kunisada Utagawa) [+]

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
34. People who profit from earthquakes make offerings to a namazu [+]

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
35. Fear of Kashima

This print shows people dancing around a namazu dressed as a representative of Kashima shrine in an annual ritual held before the start of the new agricultural season. The image of the rabbit represents the zodiac year of the rabbit (1855).

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
36. Reassurance of the quake-suppressing rock [+]

A crowd of elderly people, carpenters, young wives, china-shop owners, entertainers, Yoshiwara prostitutes, physicians, and others are offering prayers to the kaname-ishi rock, believed to have the power to keep earthquakes in check. When a person in the crowd voices his doubts about the rock’s powers, the rock responds, “I assure you that if the earth moves even a little I will stand on my head.” In the original Japanese, this answer features a pun on the words ishi-gaeshi (“overturning a rock”) and ishu-gaeshi (“taking revenge”).

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
37. Earthquake protection song

In this print, Daikoku, the popular god of wealth, showers people with money while the god Kashima restrains a namazu.

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
38. Frightened namazu [+]

This print shows a mother namazu chasing a mob of people who have kidnapped her two children. The message on the flag carried by a person in the crowd suggests they intend to grill and eat the young catfish.

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
39. Namazu with construction tools, portrayed as the legendary warrior Benkei

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
40. The god Ebisu restrains a giant catfish with a gourd [+]

SOURCE


1 Response to “Namazu-e: Earthquake catfish prints”


  1. August 26, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    Inspiring artwork! So beautiful…


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