Catfish Prints (Namazu-e)
A large namazu or catfish flailing about in the ocean is popularly held to be the cause of earthquakes in Japan. Shortly following Commodore Perry’s second arrival in Edo (1854) and the signing of the Treaty of Kanagawa opening Japanese ports to American trade, the city was struck by three earthquakes of magnitude 7-8.4 Richter in quick succession (the Ansei-Tokai and Ansei-Nankai earthquakes in December 1854 and the Ansei-Edo earthquake of November 1855). This was accompanied by tsunamis and fires. There were over 20,000 casualties. Following this, a number of woodblock prints depicting namazu were produced. Coming in the wake of the perceived failure of the Tokugawa military administration to defend Japanese honor, these prints carried covert social and political messages (earthquakes were often considered world-rectifying events) and were banned by the government in early 1856. Namazu paintings were also considered as talismans protecting against future earthquakes.