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Bizarre and beautiful Japanese prints depicting the giant catfish who causes earthquakes

While most catfish are harmless—well, apart from the ones that sting—in Japanese mythology giant catfish were believed to be the cause of earthquakes. These giant Namazu (鯰) lived in the mud under Japan. They were guarded by the god of thunder Kashima who kept them in check with a large stone. Of course, it didn’t always work. And when the catfish escaped, it thrashed freely in the waters causing the most terrible earthquakes.

This belief became very popular after the Great Ansei earthquake on November 11th, 1855. The earthquake struck near Edo (Tokyo) with a magnitude of 7.0. The quake caused a tsunami. Seven thousand people were killed.

In the aftermath, the catfish or namazu was feared and worshipped. Prints of this giant beast—called namazu-e—became very popular with residents of the city. It was claimed some of these pictures would give the owner protection from earthquakes. Others depicted the battles between Kashima and Namazu. And there were even satirical prints depicting the builders, roofers, plasterers and carpenters who prospered from others’ misery. These colorful woodblock prints are incredibly beautiful and very surreal.
Victims of the earthquake attack the giant catfish Namazu.
A mob takes revenge on Namazu.
More earthquake victims coming to wreak revenge on Namazu and her offspring.
The god Kashima quells the giant catfish with a stone.
This print of Kashima and prostitutes from the Yoshiwara red-light district show their anger to the catfish. Any owner of this lucky print was promised protection from earthquakes.
Kashima whoops Namazu’s ass with a little help from the homies in the hood. Meanwhile, those who profit from earthquakes—builders, brickies, and other construction workers—look on.
This picture apparently depicts the old Japanese saying ‘The most frightening things are earthquakes, thunder, fires, and fathers.’ Namazu plays paper, rocks, scissors, while a wrinkly old guy (father) looks on.
The same idea again—though this time Namazu is having a fish supper with the gods of thunder and fire, while a father looks on.
I’m beginning to feel sorry for this poor catfish—who exactly liked Namazu? Why construction workers. Here we see the giant catfish out on the town with carpenters, plasterers, roofers in the ‘Yoshiwara pleasure district.’ Unfortunately, the catfish is still restrained by a giant gourd.
Even when Namazu is full of remorse for those killed—the construction guys start praying for the catfish to bring another earthquake to make them richer.
Those who profit from earthquakes make offerings to Namazu.
More construction workers paying homage to the giant catfish.
Namazu approaches the shore spouting money to those who will profit from its actions
A fight with two giant catfish.
Namazu is wrestled into submission.
Namazu stopped by that ever useful gourd.
The god Kashima uses a rock (‘kaname-ishi’) to subdue the giant catfish responsible for recent earthquakes.
A crowd inspect a picture of Namazu.
A song for earthquake protection.
Namazu as the warrior Benkei, carrying the tools of the construction trade.
Via Pink Tentacle.

Posted by Paul Gallagher
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