Amaterasu Comes to Town

Perhaps the most significant role of the Ansei Edo earthquake in shaping popular perceptions within the border framework of Japan as a land of deities was in bringing Amaterasu to town. We have already seen one example in the form of the anti-Kashima print celebrating the arrival of Tentō. It may seem odd to say that Amaterasu was not in Edo prior to late 1855, and I do not mean to suggest that Amaterasu was unknown. Clearly, as we have seen, there was a widespread, if vague, knowledge among Edo's townspeople about the deity of Ise. Moreover, the Ise Shrine complex was the focus of popular pilgrimages during many okage years. Consider, however, the basic plot of Namazu Taiheiki konzatsubanashi. Amaterasu resided in Ise and presided over meetings of the major deities at Izumo during the tenth lunar month. There he appointed Kashima and Atago to go back to Edo to deal with the catfish rebellion. In other words, Amaterasu remained far from Edo. Notice also my choice of pronoun. One major difference between academic discourse and popular discourse, at least in Edo, was Amaterasu's gender. Amaterasu was a goddess to academics, but in the catfish prints, he appeared either as an abstraction (e.g., gohei, shining folded paper) or in male guise. For example, in one talismanic catfish print, Earthquake Protection (Jishin no mamori), Amaterasu is clearly labeled and appears prominently as a man with a moustache. In this print, Amaterasu appears with Kashima and other kami of Edo and declares in part that the bearer will receive protection from the deities (shoshin) “above all the land of Japan . . . all the way down to the Gold Layer [konrin], the abode of King Yama (Enma-ō).” In the lengthy text of the anti-earthquake prayer in the print, Kashima implores the myriad deities to “make the five grains thrive” and later that they ensure peace within the realm, an abundant harvest, and protect the ruler (kimi). The scope of the protective verse is clearly Japan, not simply Edo.[1]

Interpreting the earthquake as an intervention for world renewal (yonaoshi as wealth redistribution) by the cosmic forces was not without some difficulties. For one thing, not all occupations benefited, as we have seen. More problematic was the death of innocent people, such as the filial daughter in the Ansei Record (Ansei kenmonroku) tale. The metaphor of powerful medicine with strong side effects undoubtedly assisted in permitting the world renewal interpretation. Particularly after the number of deaths became widely known and it was clear that rumors had exaggerated the toll, it may have been easier to regard innocent deaths as something like what today we would call collateral damage. It would also have been easier for townspeople to regard the overall event as beneficial if the higher powers had intervened to try to minimize the loss of innocent lives. Fortunately, they did. Amaterasu sent a divine white horse (jinme) from Ise to appear in the sky and shed lifesaving hairs to protect those below.[2] One catfish print features the divine horse charging ahead, strands of hair flying, knocking down the earthquake catfish and nearly running over a hapless Kashima deity. The text explains that the horse appeared in the sky shedding hair, and the people were saved by the power of the Great Shrine at Ise.[3] A similar print explains that those who escaped unharmed by means of the falling hair did so because of their faith in the Great Shrine at Ise and the various kami.[4] The deities that in ancient times protected the imperial court now protected ordinary people throughout shinkoku Japan.

Although the Ise Shrine complex might be able to extend protection to any place in Japan, Amaterasu was still only the most powerful of the thousands of kami. He (“she” in academic circles) was closely associated with the territory of Ise Province, which was even known as “Shinkoku” in some late medieval texts, with “-koku” indicating a province.[5] Despite the prevalence of shinkoku discourse among Edo's townspeople, however, it is important to note that Amaterasu remained at Ise until the time of the earthquake. Prior to the Ansei Edo earthquake, Amaterasu had little or no direct connection with Edo in the popular imagination. There was no formal cult of Amaterasu worship in Edo, and Kashima Daimyōjin was the dominant deity of the region. Just as there was no clear central government in 1855, so it was with the deities. Kashima was largely autonomous, but strictly speaking, Amaterasu outranked him. This difference in rank came into play only after Kashima (or Ebisu) failed to prevent the earthquake. Similarly, in academic circles, scholars such as Aizawa Seishisai regarded the bakufu as exercising authority that ultimately derived from the imperial court. The bakufu's foremost task was to protect the realm against foreign incursion, much like the Kamakura bakufu had done in the face of Mongol threats. In many eyes, the Tokugawa bakufu failed in 1853 and 1854. Moreover, the bakufu looked weak again when the earthquake destroyed its artillery batteries and major offices. In the cosmic realm, the earthquake was a clear indication of Kashima's failure to protect his domain, even if his being out of town for a meeting mitigated the blame.

Some early prints convey an irreverent sense of disgust that Edo's local deities would have so badly mismanaged the balance of cosmic forces resulting in the earthquake. In Catfish and the Foundation Stone (Namazu to kanameishi), fires rage and the earth shakes above the sinister-looking figure of a catfish. Ebisu, filling in for Kashima, looks tired as he dozes against the Foundation Stone.[6] A strange-looking man to the left of the print is the thunder deity. He engages in a peculiar pastime of some townspeople, which we might call “extreme farting” or perhaps “thunder farting.” The basic object of this sport was to make more noise than one's opponents. According to the scholar Hiraga Gennai (1729–1779) in his treatise On Farting (Hōhiron), thunder farting made its debut in 1774 at the Ryōgoku Bridge, a major site of freak shows (misemono) and other popular culture performances in Edo. Small drums issue forth from the thunder deity's posterior, no doubt to emphasize the booming sonic element in his performance. The small figure of a hapless-looking man on horseback in the print is Kashima, rushing back from his meeting with other deities in Izumo. These incompetent deities have allowed a major disaster to unfold in the form of fire-ravaged, post-earthquake Edo.[7] Large gold coins fall from the burning city, presaging the world renewal theme that became prominent in later prints.

This disgust at the Kashima deity's ineptitude sometimes manifested itself in a different manner: demoting Kashima and replacing him with Amaterasu. In other words, it was necessary for Amaterasu to come to Edo to restore order to the realm. To some extent, this demotion followed the money in real life. Five days after the earthquake struck, the bakufu paid thirteen shrines throughout the country to conduct prayers. The inner and outer shrines at Ise received five gold bars, and the Kashima Shrine, Katori Shrine, and the others each received three. Bukufu gold thus acknowledged that Ise was Japan's leading shrine and Amaterasu its leading deity. As the focus of okage pilgrimages and for other reasons, the Ise shrines had long cultivated an image as Japan's most prestigious religious institution.[8]

Other prints depict Kashima in supporting roles, subordinate to Amaterasu, or in a mildly antagonistic relationship with Amaterasu. In one image, Amaterasu, Kashima, and Hachiman ride horses across the sky of a devastated Edo. Amaterasu orders the earthquake catfish to depart from Edo quickly and dispenses strands of horsehair, his back turned to Kashima. Kashima comments on the severity of the destruction and holds the Foundation Stone aloft, but the stone is of no use in the sky.[9] In this image, Amaterasu and Kashima are of roughly the same size and occupy the same height in the sky. In a different print, however, Amaterasu, called the “imperial ancestor of great Japan,” towers above the smaller figure of Kashima, who assists in distributing divine horsehair alongside of six other local Edo deities.[10] Here, Kashima clearly has been demoted. Its text refers to Japan as a shinkoku whose people are fortunate that Amaterasu, the emperor (mikado), the shogun, and the domain lords are all benevolent and concerned for the people's well-being.[11] Here we see a vision of Japan that includes land, deities, and rulers arrayed in a manner similar to that which the newly founded Meiji state began promoting slightly over a decade later. While relatively few prints are as explicit as this one in positing Amaterasu's superiority over the deities of Edo, many reveal a degree of tension between Kashima and Amaterasu. Prints featuring Amaterasu also suggest that the impact of the earthquake extended beyond Edo to other areas of Japan.

“Japan” appears frequently in the text of the catfish prints, usually as Nihon/Nippon or some variation such as Dai-Nihon. Moreover, the text of catfish prints consistently depicts Amaterasu in terms such as lord of “the skies above all of the land of Great Japan,” albeit often in concert with the “various other deities.”[12] It is possible, as Takashi Fujitani has argued, that in some rural areas, consciousness of Japan or an awareness of emperors and their principal deity were either absent or so vague as to be no different from local folk beliefs. As a generalization, it was indeed the case that “during the Tokugawa period, Japan was populated by a people separated from one another regionally, with strong local rather than national ties.” Moreover, insofar as pre–Meiji Restoration residents of Edo were cognizant of the emperor's existence, they tended to see him as a popular, wish-granting deity.[13] Information networks, however, had long tied urban areas together, and by 1855 townspeople were well aware that they lived in Japan, even if they had only recently begun to pay attention to events outside of their cities or regions. “Japan” as an imagined community in 1855 did not possess as rich an array of cultural attributes as it would acquire in modern times. The Ansei Edo earthquake reinforced the idea of Amaterasu as ruler of Great Japan to an audience who until 1853 or 1854 had little opportunity to think about the solar deity. Although Amaterasu was part of a vast array of characters that appeared on the post-earthquake stage, it is significant that the emperor's deity eclipsed Kashima, closely associated with Edo and the bakufu. It was a cosmic dress rehearsal for the earthly events of 1867 and 1868 that took place at the time of the next okage year. Gregory Clancey points out that the 1891 Nōbi earthquake functioned as “a dress rehearsal” for the major “nationalizing” event of the era, the First Sino-Japanese War.[14] The Ansei Edo earthquake played a similar role vis-à-vis the Meiji Restoration. It helped make what would soon happen easier to imagine.

  • [1] Print #68 in Miyata and Takada, Namazue, 111, 284–285.
  • [2] AKR, vol. 3, 13–16 (ge no jūsan–ge no jūroku). See also Arakawa Jitsuroku, Ō-Edo kaimetsu no hi, 90–94 and Kitahara, Jishin no shakaishi, 188. See also Abe, “Amaterasu,” 37–38.
  • [3] Print #30 in Miyata and Takada, Namazue, 112, 257.
  • [4] Print #31 in Miyata and Takada, Namazue, 112, 258.
  • [5] Kitai, Shinkokuron, 118–120. Izumo, Nara and Yamato provinces were also sometimes referred to as shinkoku in the context of Warring States daimyō encroaching on these territories, which had been under control of shrines or temples. Once again, the term shinkoku indicated a crisis that threatened the social structure, albeit at the local level in these cases.
  • [6] Print #44 in Miyata and Takada, Namazue, 106, 266. In this capacity, Ebisu was acting as a rusu(i)gami, that is, a caretaker deity who stands in for the main kami during the tenth month. Although often depicted as goodnatured, Ebisu’s origins are complex and contain a dark side that can manifest itself in certain circumstances. For a detailed explanation of these matters, see Cornellis Ouwehand, Namazu-e and their Themes: An Interpretative Approach to Some Aspects of Japanese Folk Religion (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1964), 16, 82–85. To view print #44, see toritsu/ukiyoe/0C/0277-C040.jpg.
  • [7] Wakamizu Suguru, Namazu wa odoru: Edo no namazue omoshiro bunseki (Bungeisha, 2003), 70.
  • [8] Noguchi, Ansei Edo jishin, 194–195.
  • [9] Image #29 in Miyata and Takada, Namazue, 257. For analysis of this image, see Abe, “Amaterasu,” 40.
  • [10] Image #32 in Miyata and Takada, Namazue, 258–60.
  • [11] Abe, “Amaterasu,” 41–42.
  • [12] For example, see prints #66 and #68 in Miyata and Takada, Namazue, 283, 285.
  • [13] T. Fujitani, Splendid Monarchy: Power and Pageantry in Modern Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 1–9.
  • [14] Gregory Clancey, Earthquake Nation: The Cultural Politics of Japanese Seismicity, 1868–1930 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 131.
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