Catfish, Earthquakes and Woodblock Prints

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Reader "Swinebread" left comments regarding Kaname-ishi, the stone which the Kashima diety uses to control the catfish that causes earthquakes. The catfish monster is called Namazu. A couple of years ago, in Saitama, Swinebread saw a showing of old woodblock prints about the catfish, some like the one in Kashima Jingu are shown being held down, others are subdued with sake, women, and song. Some of the prints are pretty humorous. Click on either image to go the site and see all of the prints. The prints are called "Namazu-e". Thanks for link Swinebread.

On November 11, 1855, an earthquake of magnitude 6.9 -The Great Ansei Edo Earthquake - detroyed Edo (now Tokyo). Woodblock prints about the quake and about the catfish were printed in large numbers. Coming soon after the visits of Commodore Perry in 1853 and 1854 which ended Japan's isolation, as well as other earthquakes, people in Edo saw the earthquake in political and philosophical terms as a yonaoshi - "world rectification". The earthquake was meant to shake up a sleeping nation and had political implications which are the topic of some of these prints.

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Don Snabulus said...

It almost makes me feel as though eating a good Cajun-blackened catfish could be inciting an earthquake. However, the N'Orleans region has problems far removed from earthquakes. (Although the New Madrid, Missouri earthquake in the 1800s was not far away).

May your shaking be minor and your catfish be tasty.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Maybe there's a subliminal reason why Californians don't eat catfish...

Pandabonium said...

Snabby - Actually, eating catfish causes flooding. This is well known in most places outside of the Southern USA.

Thanks. Never had a tasty catfish before.

Moody - I think Californians avoid catfish because they taste like dirt, and other more tasty fish are available.

QUASAR9 said...

Awesome, love them

I used to do wood carvings for print, but never got that good.

Love the Japanese prints, I think they were highly civilized, but alas as with all feudal systems wracked with division & envy ...
and then came the modern age

Though I hear the very wealthy are very attuned to ancient tradition and custom, much more so than the majority of the modern japanese who are finding it difficult to create an identity - certainly one to better their ancient one

Anonymous said...

Fun stuff, glad you liked it enough to post about it.

Those catfish prints are ton of fun!

Plus, I got an account now!

Pandabonium said...

quasar9 - yes, Japan still views the outside world as "better" in some sense and attempts to copy, if only superficially, Western (American) culture. There have been people in the arts and philosophy who have been fairly successful at blending the old and new. In the end, Western culture is empty and as it implodes, Japan and other 2nd hand cultures will have to look elsewhere - inward and perhaps to the past - for another model.

Swinebread - congrats on your new blog.

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Do Japanese artist still do woodcut prints? I loved them when I discovered them.
I did a bit of woodcut carving to make prints but they were never fine-tuned. Some artists use thick, soft lino instead as it's much easier to carve into.

The Moody Minstrel said...

yes, Japan still views the outside world as "better" in some sense and attempts to copy, if only superficially, Western (American) culture.

I think the best description is given in Shusaku Endo's novel Silence. One of the main characters explains that Japan is like a swamp. When things come in from outside, they may seem to take root, but they all wind up sinking into the swamp and becoming part of it.

In other words, rather than saying Japan "superficially copies" Western culture, it's probably more accurate to say that Japan adapts elements of Western culture, taking them into itself and making them something that is no longer really Western but a new part of Japanese culture.

For example, Japanese dress fashions are based on Western styles, but the rules are often quite different here.

As for woodblock prints, yes there are artists that keep the tradition alive, though they are sadly few compared with what they used to be.

Pandabonium said...

Moody - the way you put it is more accurate for some things - that is something the Japanese have done for milenia. But I still maintain that sometimes just the superficial aspects of something are immitated, especially in things which are fadish, and the underlying meaning or history lost.

Wendy - for an interesting overview of the topic of woodblock art today, along with samples and links to various artists, visit this page: Contemporary Japanese Prints. There is some really nice work being done.

Frederick said...

I always wanted to do a theme based on old Japanese paintings....