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The catfish print Kashima Fear (Kashima osore) portrays seven ecstatic dancers, six townspeople and Enma no ko (child of Yama) surrounding a giant catfish dressed as a representative of the Kashima Shrine.[1] These representatives would travel throughout Japan in the early spring at the start of the New Year, pronouncing oracles regarding the prosperity of the upcoming year. Religious dancing connected with this process, dancing in anticipation of a fruitful harvest, was called Kashima odori or Kashima kotofure. The seven dancers substitute for the seven deities of good fortune. The catfish holds a pole with a red solar disk at its top, and a rabbit appears in the disk because 1855 was the year of the rabbit.[2] The dancers also convey a sense of the carnival-like atmosphere that was part of pilgrimages to the Ise Shrine during okage years. The text of the print abounds with plays on words and double meanings, and it explains that despite the destruction the shaking has caused, the people have received the blessings of the ruler (kimi, a vague term). Moreover, the Foundation Stone is a sign that the present regime will endure. Then the catfish decrees a propitious oracle for “this yonaoshi earthquake.” The carpenter mentions his high wages, and Enma no ko exclaims, “Yonaoshi! Everything in this world is good, good, good!” The print is a typical example of the interpretation of the earthquake as world renewal. The appearance of Enma no ko in this print and elsewhere in connection with the earthquake deserves some attention.[3] The appearance of a peculiar person or creature with at least some supernatural capabilities was a common motif in popular riots or other demonstrations that involved mass protest and property destruction, usually in the name of world renewal. The riots in Edo of 1787, for example, lived on in folk memory and popular literature up to the time of the riots there in 1866. As commentators recreated narratives of the 1787 riots over the years, they connected their outbreak to the appearance of figures such as “an unshaven youth of seventeen or eighteen and a man of unusual strength,” a tengu (legendary bird/man goblins with magical powers), a priest of superhuman strength, “a tiny youth with the strength of a sumo wrestler,” and incarnations of popular heroes from the past such as Benkei or Yoshitsune.[4] Enma no ko possessed precisely the qualities of a tiny youth with great strength. His appearance in 1855 fits perfectly a well-established pattern of popular world renewal uprisings. The main difference, of course, is that in this case the shaking earth performed the destruction and redistribution of wealth that would ordinarily have been the work of enraged townspeople.

The other element in this print worthy of closer examination is the frenzied dancing. Dancing was an integral part of folk religion and the mass pilgrimages to Ise during okage years. The most famous and significant frenzied dancing took place during the okage year of 1867, twelve years after the earthquake. During that year, frenzied dancing occurred widely throughout Japan, known retrospectively as ee ja nai ka (approximately, “What the hell?!”), after one of the common refrains the dancers chanted. Ee ja nai ka dancing was much like mass pilgrimages except that it occurred locally, usually but not always prompted by reports of amulets or other objects falling from the sky in connection with popular local cults. The classical interpretation of the ee ja nai ka dancing is that it constituted anti-bakufu protests. Several scholars, however, have rejected such interpretations or added nuance to them. Takagi Shunsuke, for example, argues that ee ja nai ka was a manifestation of a longer tradition of folk dancing in connection with world renewal. In other words, the dancing reflected aspirations on the part of peasants or ordinary townspeople to improve their economic lot and should be regarded as a part of “world renewal as a religion” (yonaoshi shinkō).[5] Nevertheless, there was a difference between the dancing in 1867 and that of previous years, both in terms of scale and content. The 1867 dancers were well aware of the implications of broader political developments. In the Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe areas, for example, dancers began to chant “Thanks to Chōshū,” the price of rice has dropped, in celebration of the bakufu's calling off its second expedition against Chōshū. Indeed, a specific dance, Chōshū-odori, emerged from this display of bakufu weakness.[6] Spontaneous zannen-san pilgrimages in the Osaka area broke out in the form of mass visits to the graves of some fallen Chōshū soldiers. The political implications of these visits prompted the magistrate of Osaka to ban them, thus making them all the more popular.[7]

Knowing what happened twelve years later, we can see that the popular interpretations of the Ansei Edo earthquake, while not explicitly political in the manner of zannen-san pilgrimages, were in some cases an intermediary stage between traditional world renewal events and the politically charged dancing and pilgrimages in 1867. The almost carnival-like atmosphere depicted in Kashima Fear as the cosmic forces upended society for the benefit of the common people provided an unintentional preview of events soon to come. Moreover, although most instances of yonaoshi in 1855 referred to the transfer of wealth from rich merchants to other townspeople, a more ominous sense of this term also emerged.

  • [1] Print #191 in Miyata and Takada, Namazue, 17, 355. To view this print, see ukiyoe/0C/0277-C031.jpg.
  • [2] Noguchi, Ansei Edo jishin, 212–216. Noguchi points out that this disk represents the sun, not the moon as some have speculated. A rabbit in a disk indeed typically signifies the moon, but the color of the disk in this print is red, although washed out in many copies.
  • [3] Miyazaki Narumi points out that talk of Enma no ko (child of hell-king Yama) appeared the previous year in Edo. The child was a miniature version of his father and very strong. According to hearsay, people trapped under beams would sometimes call out for Enma no ko to come and help them. “Ansei itsubō jishin kibun,” in NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 450. In a catfish print, Enma no ko, earthquake victims in Yama’s court beg to be treated as his child. Print #16 in Miyata and Takada, Namazue, 246–247. To view this print, see–083/00001.jpg.
  • [4] Anne Walthall, “Edo Riots,” in James L. McClain, John W. Merriman, and Ugawa Kaoru, eds., Edo and Paris: Urban Life and the State in the Early Modern Era (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994), 415–416.
  • [5] Takagi Shunsuke, Ee ja nai ka (Kyōikusha, 1979), 208–231.
  • [6] Ibid., 222–224.
  • [7] Ibid., 225–227. The name comes from the apocryphal tales featuring Chōshū loyalists shouting “Zannen!” (Too bad!) just before they died.
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