Namazu-e: Earthquake catfish prints
April 8, 2011 5:19 PM   Subscribe

"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."
posted by madamjujujive (19 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Can't sleep...clown catfish'll eat me...
posted by DaDaDaDave at 5:29 PM on April 8, 2011

Thank you for this! I am 3/4 of the way through David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and this adds another fascinating dimension. These are wonderful, and so is the book!
posted by thinkpiece at 5:31 PM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

What I find most fascinating is the underlying theme of redistribution of wealth.

Several of my students have expressed the sentiment that this earthquake was nature's way of telling us that we are over-consuming our natural resources and we need to re-examine our priorities. I've given up on the geology lessons and let them have their discussions as long as they stay in the target language.

At any rate, it seems, at least right now, Japan is redistributing the wealth in small ways. As I sit on my couch in central Japan, the news is showing empty shopping arcades in Tokyo...people who would normally be walking the Ginza on this rainy Saturday morning, shopping at Vuitton and its ilk, are currently spending those monies (millions of yen daily) on the relief effort for the Tohoku area.
posted by squasha at 5:40 PM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

(of course, my skepticism ove Japanese news media makes me suspect they shot these images before the stores had opened....)
posted by squasha at 5:42 PM on April 8, 2011

When Seafood Attacks!
posted by Sys Rq at 5:42 PM on April 8, 2011

This is a photo I took in a Kyoto garden the only time I've visited Japan.

It's a butterfly (obviously), but what I failed to capture in this (amateur) photo is the context.

It was resting, smack bang in the middle of a small stone arch bridge over a stream in a Shinto(?) garden. Honestly... it was right on top of the arch in the middle, aligned with the direction of the bridge.

To this day, it's something I think about. (I'm not trolling or making it up, or exaggerating about how it was resting precisely in the center of the bridge... I even ponder whether I didn't take a macro photo that showed the whole bridge because, in the words of Bill Murray, "nobody will believe you")

Of course it was just a random moment of synchronicity.
posted by panaceanot at 5:51 PM on April 8, 2011

In Ponyo, the sea turns into great fish like these - they are the tsunami that will come if the mermaid isn't returned to the sea.
posted by jb at 5:56 PM on April 8, 2011

Also interesting is the consistent division in the pictures between those who profit from earthquakes (who are shown on the side of the namazu) and those who suffer from them. It seems like that was heavy on peoples' minds.
posted by amethysts at 5:58 PM on April 8, 2011

Previously on MeFi, the super-rad rockstar/fishmonger "Captain" Morita and his fish rock band tells the tale of the giant catfish in his own particular way.
posted by Mizu at 6:13 PM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is that... is that a demon monkey shitting on someone? Oh man, excellent.
posted by indubitable at 6:48 PM on April 8, 2011

Wamono is a video by Japanese turntablist duo Hifana, about giant catfish, mermaids, and rough seas. (warning: Contains cartoon mermaid boobs)
posted by aubilenon at 7:25 PM on April 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

These are great! My brother, the trout farmer, is now out on his one-man Alaskan salmon fishing boat. He'll love this. He likes everything to do with fish. He always has.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:30 PM on April 8, 2011

Can't sleep...clown catfish'll eat me...
posted by DaDaDaDave

Some times they get us, and sometimes we get them.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:25 PM on April 8, 2011

I didn't realize Raiden could shit drums.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:21 PM on April 8, 2011

Are some of these making fun of belief in supernatural tales like these, or is having fun with them tradditionally ok and part of it?
posted by thefool at 3:39 AM on April 9, 2011

Lots of resentment against the construction trades, builders and carpenters. The allies of the catfish are shown with the tools of their trades, like vultures gloating over carrion.
posted by ohshenandoah at 8:35 AM on April 9, 2011

I'm not surprised giant catfish caused earthquakes. The little hoplo catfish in my aquarium are always happily digging and moving rocks around. I'm sure they would cause an earthquake if they could.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:14 PM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

ohshenahdoah -- I passed this link around to some friends of mine from Christchurch. There was a definite consensus of plus ├ža change...
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:37 PM on April 9, 2011

Without having done any research, I'm going to take a stab & guess that things like graft, corruption, & collusion were rife in the construction industry (& government) in Japan, much as they are now, hence the references in these amazing prints. Thanks for posting this!
posted by PepperMax at 12:09 PM on April 11, 2011

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