Patterns of Benefit

The earthquake produced new deities such as Second-to-None Plasterer Buddha (Sakanmuni nyorai) and Roof Tile Earthen Storehouse Bodhisattva (Yane-no-kawara dozō bosatsu), who appeared in a farcical broadside print featuring the pair in the context of a kaichō, the periodic revealing of an otherwise hidden Buddhist divinity (fig. 7). To the right of the print is a temple sign announcing the exhibition of the images from the night of the second day of the tenth month, for a daily fee. The storehouse-headed bodhisattva is in the center of the print, holding a key to open storehouse doors of the wealthy in his right hand and a rice ball in his left. To his right a plasterer's assistant points to the manifest deity using a mixing stick. The revealed Plasterer-Buddha stands on a stool. He holds a trowel in this right hand and a plasterboard in his left. Wooden supports prop up his holy enclosure, which shows evidence of damage to its walls. The buddha, of course, is a parody of Shakyamuni, and the bodhisattva is a parody of Jizō

Figure 7 Print of Second-to-None Plasterer Buddha and Storehouse Bodhisattva, revealed in a public display of Buddhist icons (1855). Courtesy of the Tokyo Metropolitan Library. (the “Earth-Storehouse” Bodhisattva). The origin story (Yuraiki) text above the figures cleverly takes the classical story of Shakyamuni's life and modifies it: the Plasterer Buddha hears a voice after the earthquake that says, “There are many plaster walls!” and finds riches after bathing in the water of the city waterworks. He becomes addicted to prostitutes (yūjo bosatsu, “prostitute bodhisattva”), however, and ends up penniless.[1] These two deities have arrived to save Edo from the effects of the earthquake, after receiving suitable payment, of course.

Keeping wages and prices under control was an early and ongoing concern of City Magistrate officials. It was also a concern of many of the prominent writers of earthquake accounts. Regarding the likelihood of the cost of materials and workers' wages rising, Jōtō Sanjin explained that the bakufu decreed that workers receive one or two bu in wages and that materials such as mats and rope be sold at only 10 to 20 percent above ordinary prices.[2] Record of the Times praises the benevolence of our “enlightened ruler” for, among other things, “strictly decreeing” that there be no greed or excess in the price of grain and building materials and in wages charged for repairs and rebuilding.[3] The bakufu, however, was unable to change obvious wage and price dynamics by fiat. In a more realistic view of the situation, Miyazaki Narumi points out that “because skilled workers have been so busy after the earthquake and have received much money, it is only natural that they would spend their money wildly.” He continues explaining that merchants are doing a brisk business in towels, belly wraps, and the other kinds of clothing and accessories construction workers use. Elsewhere Narumi mentions that the high demand for roofers, carpenters, and plasterers and their relatively low numbers had produced imposters: “People have been posing as members of these trades and enjoying the receipt of high wages.”[4]

In the aftermath of the earthquake, a clear sense of winners and losers developed, which is apparent in several catfish prints. Tipsiness aft r the Great Catfish (Ō-namazu-go no namayoi) depicts a large group immediately after the earthquake, still somewhat disoriented. The Kashima deity vigorously skewers the giant catfish with a sword, and the huge fish divides the print into upper and lower sections. The dozens of people depicted thus divide into two groups. Those at the top are labeled “smiling,” while those at the bottom are “weeping” and “have plenty of free time”—that is, they are unemployed. The smiling group includes a carpenter, a plasterer, a seller of lumber, a blacksmith, a roof-tile merchant, an elite courtesan, an ordinary prostitute, a physician, and sellers of certain types of ready-to-eat foods. In total, the print depicts about thirty specific occupations as profiting from the earthquake. The crying group includes a teahouse proprietor; a seller of eels; a variety of entertainers such as musicians, comedians, and storytellers; a seller of luxury goods; a diamond merchant; and a seller of imported goods—twenty-five specific occupations in all.[5] Other catfish prints taking up the theme of society divided along the lines of economic winners and losers portray similar sets of occupations, although the elite courtesan sometimes ends up in the “idle” category.[6] In looking at the mix of occupations on each side of the giant catfish divide, we find a society consisting of interdependent, specialized occupations serving varying income levels.

Although the earthquake has divided this society, it has also brought people together. Prints like Tipsiness after the Great Catfish were typically ambivalent. The people on each side of the giant catfish are dressed similarly and assume similar postures. The winners are not celebrating, and everyone appears dazed (despite the “smiling” label, nobody is actually grinning). The earthquake has united them in a common terrifying experience. Certainly the sellers of luxury goods, for example, will suffer from the diversion of money to such basics as building supplies and construction work. There is no suggestion in the print, however, of censure or that those on the crying side of the earthquake deserve any cosmic punishment. Instead, the earthquake is an example of the instability of the world, a basic tenet of Buddhism. Those townspeople harmed deserve compassion and assistance. Indeed, several catfish prints harshly criticize construction workers who have become arrogant, drinking and whoring away their windfall profits while others still suffer from the effects of the earthquake.[7]

  • [1] Print #23 in Miyata and Takada, Namazue, 252. See also Wakamizu Suguru, Edokko kishitsu to namazue (Kadokawa gakugei shuppan, 2007), 71–73. See figure 7 in the present volume.
  • [2] “Yabure mado no ki,” in DNJS, vol. 2 (otsu), 552–553.
  • [3] “Jifūroku,” in DNJS, vol. 2 (otsu), 539.
  • [4] “Ansei itsubō jishin kibun,” in NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 432, 454.
  • [5] Print #62 in Miyata and Takada, Namazue, 18–19, 278–280. See also Wakamizu Suguru, Namazu wa odoru: Edo no namazue omoshiro bunseki (Bungeisha, 2003), 62–65.
  • [6] See, for example, prints #110 and #111 in Miyata and Takada, Namazue, 138, 311–312. See also Markus, “Gesaku Authors,” 56–57, and Kitahara, Jishin no shakaishi, 241–245.
  • [7] Nangitori (Hard-to-Figure-Out Bird) is a good example of a print critical of the newly rich. Five tradesmen are sitting around in an expensive restaurant. A large catfish is going to be their feast during a night of drinking and revelry. A giant bird, however, swoops down and snatches the catfish away from them. The bird is “hard to figure out” because it consists entirely of tools and objects from occupations adversely effected by the earthquake. Its tail feathers are oars for small boats, and its wings are books, dry goods, abacuses, and tall geta shoes. Its neck and crown are the hairpins of elite courtesans and tea ceremony whisks. In other words, the bird represents such professions as tea ceremony teachers, courtesans, and small boat operators. It also includes booksellers, pawnshops, and clothing stores. Print #108 in Miyata and Takada, Namazue, 225, 310–311. To view this print, see ishimoto/2/02–058/00001.jpg. See also Tomisawa Tatsuzō, “Nishikie no nyūsu sei: Namazue, hashikae, Bōshin sensō-ki no fūshiga o megutte,” in Kinoshita Naoyuki and Yoshimi Shunya, eds., Nyūsu no tanjō: Kawaraban to shinbun nishikie no jōhō sekai (Tōkyō daigaku sōgō kenkyū hakubutsukan, 1999), 195.
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