Namazu (鯰) the Earthshaker

  • Namazu (鯰), or Ōnamazu (大鯰), is a giant catfish that has been a popular symbol in Japanese art and literature since the 1400s. 
  • According to a popular myth, Namazu lives deep in the earth and causes earthquakes and tsunamis by thrashing his tail. Japan experiences frequent earthquakes (10% of seismic activity on Earth occurs in Japan) and Namazu provided a way for people to explain these often devastating events. 
  • Depictions of Namazu are so common that woodcuts showing the catfish are called namazu-e.

Various depictions of Namazu (all from Bressan, 2011).

How is this related to climate?

  • Over time, Namazu came to be associated with more than just earthquakes. From the early 1600s to the mid-1800s, he represented natural disasters in general, including weather- and climate-related heavy rainfall and flooding episodes.   
  • Namazu was also used in satire. In some works of art, he is depicted as a coward hiding from the aftermath of a natural disaster, criticizing the aristocracy and civil servants who often tried to escape the responsibility of helping the people after a catastrophic event.

References and additional resources