Woodblock Prints Depicting a Giant Catfish: Reflection of Edo People’s Imagination (Archived at the Ojaku Bunko Library)

National Museum of Japanese History

poster for Woodblock Prints Depicting a Giant Catfish: Reflection of Edo People’s Imagination (Archived at the Ojaku Bunko Library)
[Image: Annual Winter Housecleaning (1855), Archived at the Ojaku Bunko Library]

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Japan was hit by many earthquakes in the Edo period (1603-1867), especially late in the period, when there was a succession of large quakes. The Zenkoji Earthquake in 1847 drew much attention from those in Edo (Tokyo). In 1854, two large quakes, the Ansei Tokai Earthquake and the Ansei Nankai Earthquake, occurred one after another. Then on November 11, 1855, the Ansei Edo Earthquake caused devastating damage to the city of Edo. Shortly after this earthquake, various printed works appeared, such as “tile-block printing” broadsheets (kawaraban), which reported on or reacted to the damage. Among these, it is thought that more than 200 woodblock prints, today called Namazu-e, were issued, until they were banned by the authorities in December of the same year. Based on motifs of a mystical giant underground catfish, which at that time was believed to cause earthquakes, the Namazu-e dealt with a variety of subjects and ideas, reflecting a wide range of the people’s feelings, such as their fear of earthquakes, satirical attitudes to social conditions after the earthquake, and desire for social reforms. Through a collection of the roughly 200 pieces of Namazu-e archived at the Ojaku Bunko Library, this exhibition illustrates the strong imagination of the Edo people, who addressed the unprecedented damage caused by the earthquake with a brave spirit and sense of humor. It is shown for the first time in Japan.

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from July 13, 2021 to September 05, 2021
Open on August 9.

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