Catfish-Printing Boom after a Great Earthquake in 1855

On October 2, 1885, a great earthquake struck Edo (modern day Tokyo) and killed over 10,000 people. Since the very next day, multi colored catfish pictures called “namazu-e (catfish printing)” were started to be printed. Over 200 kinds of them were printed in two months and sold like hotcakes.

Why catfish? Because in Japanese mythology, it was believed that a giant catfish that lived in the mud beneath the earth caused earthquakes.

The early catfish-printings were drawn a giant catfish beaten by a god or people with some messages saying like “Don’t ever do that again!” But later, the variations were expanded.



The time was right after the arrival of American warship (1853), and social condition was insecure, so the people at the time took the earthquake as “social reform,” meaning that it reset the society for the new generation; therefore, there are printings portray catfishes save people as if they were heroes.

Also, some “namazu-e” portray the carpenters whose businesses got prospered for the reconstruction having party with a cat-fish.


“Catfish Heroes” (left) and “Carpenters’ Exultation with a Giant Catfish” (Right)


Even after the disaster, people never forgot the sense of humor and looked at the situation positively. Now being in a worse disaster, we feel that we took over the same attitude from the ancestors.


Source: Excite News April 11, 2011


This is JAPAN Style!