Shaking Up Japan: Edo Society and the 1855 Catfish Picture Prints (A1167731) Haruka Koda
The Shaking of Japan
Gregory Smith in his essay, “Shaking up Japan: Edo Society and the 1855 Catfish Picture Prints”, focuses on the state of political consciousness among the Edo commoners in 1855, which is when the Ansei Earthquake struck Japan. The author explains the social and political devastation the Japanese society experiences. The traumatic event led to a Japanese Urban Society politically and socially weakening. Subsequently, within the following twelve years, caused a social awakening and proto-nationalism: the Meiji Restoration. Under the Tokugawa Shogun and Bakufu, social class with principles indistinguishable from caste system, the mobility for a Japanese to classes was uncommon. Thus, as Smith conveys in his paper, the earthquake struck Japan to impact the political aspect giving the urban Japanese society implications. Thus, the focus of Smith’s essay is how the commoners dealt these implications through namazu-e. The author, as well as many other scholars, believed that the namazu-e was the constitution of a powerful form of political rhetoric for a group theoretically forbidden from engaging in political discourse. In Smiths words, “the anonymous print makers of Edo [referring to namazu-e] pointed out that the earthquake under their city had shaken up all of Japan, and they were right” (1072). Smith writes about the way the people at the time reacted at the devastating natural disaster through numerous reasoning and the prevailing to be Namazu-e. When he describes, “namazu-e constituted a powerful form of political rhetoric for a group theoretically forbidden from engaging in political discourse” (1072). When explaining the characteristics of namazu-e today, he agrees with Abe Yasunari who though that they were handy, cheap, and a disposable tool for helping to create Japan as a nation. At the time, the narrow knowledge of science, and the law of joh disconnected Japan from the rest of the world being impotent of getting new knowledge. Thus, to compensate, the Japanese society ideology evolved around the cosmic forces and the government, “An ‘emperor’ reigned in the traditional capital of Kyoto, functioning mainly as a religious and cultural figurehead. In the prevailing world view, an appropriately benevolent government would enjoy the legitimacy of cosmic sanctions” (1046). However, the compensation of depending as a whole on government created conflict of emotions. For an example, the government failing to heed warning of natural disasters was, in similar to classical Chinese political theory, regarded as a phenomenon as the passing of Heavens mandate from one dynasty to another. Social dysfunction and anxiety complicates society, thus the deities were thought as the only dependable effigy to the Japanese. Smith introduces the pervasive understanding of the earthquakes within the Japanese society at that time. The Chinese influences of the ying yang, a giant creature controlling the country, the deity or a giant supporting the earth, or the earth shakes because of the pillar of band, which support the earth, the male and female deities shake the earth during their sexual activities, or the careless movements of the ancestors. However, as Smith conveys, the prevailing understanding of a folk story in Japan is the subterranean movements of the Namazu to cause earthquakes. This is because, as the author explains, “metaphoric thinking was common whereby the supernatural creatures, deities and other mechanisms of folk theories were concrete representation of the abstract process of academic theories” (1051). This ideology had become increasingly evident especially after the Answei Earthquake. It viruses across Japan as reasons for the theme of namazu-e while Ukiyo-e was popular, the prints were produced within the first ten days prior to the earthquake. Smith...