In November 1855, the Great Ansei Earthquake struck the city of Edo (now Tokyo), claiming 7,000 lives and inflicting widespread damage. Within days, a new type of color woodblock print known asnamazu-e (lit. “catfish pictures”) became popular among the residents of the shaken city. These prints featured depictions of mythical giant catfish (namazu) who, according to popular legend, caused earthquakes by thrashing about in their underground lairs. In addition to providing humor and social commentary, many prints claimed to offer protection from future earthquakes.
Earthquake victims take revenge on the giant catfish responsible for the destruction