April 07, 2011
At Japanese art and culture site Pink Tentacle, a selection of woodblocks featuring giant catfish:
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.
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.