In Japanese mythology, the Namazu () or Ōnamazu () is a giant underground catfish who causes earthquakes.

An image of humans battling a Namazu

The creature lives under the islands of Japan and is guarded by the god Takemikazuchi enshrined at Kashima, who restrains the catfish with a stone. When the Kashima-god lets his guard fall, Namazu thrashes about, causing violent earthquakes.


The legend or myth in Japan is that a gigantic namazu (catfish) lives inside or beneath the earth (or in the mud[1]) which causes earthquakes.[2]

The association of the namazu with earthquake seems to have first occurred in the area around Lake Biwa, around the 16th century.[3] The namazu had been depicted in the Ōtsu-e ("pictures from the city of Otsu") which were manufactured in that area.[a]

This earthquake-causing creature became associated with the deity and "foundation stone" in Kashima, Ibaraki.[3] According to myth, the god Takemikazuchi enshrined at Kashima restrains the catfish underneath a stone (kaname-ishi [ja], perhaps "foundation stone" but maybe more aptly "cap stone").[6][3] When the Kashima-god lets his guard fall, Namazu thrashes about, causing violent earthquakes.[1]


Widespread connections between catfish and earthquakes in Japan were not present until the late 17th century, and only rose to popularity as symbolically causing or predicting earthquakes during the 19th century.[7] Prior to the 1855 Edo earthquake, an eel fisherman reportedly spotted unusually active catfish in a river, which he took as a predictor of an earthquake. Later that night, the earthquake struck.[8] The anecdote, recorded in an 1856 chronicle of journalistic reporting on the earthquake, is the earliest known claim that catfish can naturally predict earthquakes.[7] In the 1930s, Japanese seismologists Shinkishi Hatai and Noboru Abe demonstrated that catfish in aquaria showed increased agitation several hours before earthquakes occurred, and were able to predict quakes with 80% accuracy.[9]


Ebisu falls asleep guarding the stone for Kajima, who returns belated on horseback. Kaminari creating thunder from the posterior.
Kashima controls the namazu.


Namazu-e ("catfish prints") were a known item in the 19th century,[10] and these broadsides were printed in great quantity following an earthquake near Edo (modern day Tokyo) in 1855 (one of the Ansei great earthquakes).[11]

These namazu-e woodblock-prints encompass a large variety of scenes, typically depicting the god subduing the earthquake-causing catfish under a sword or the kanameishi stone.[2] The creature is sometimes referred to as just the "earthquake fish" (jishin-no-uo),[12] and the despite the text calling it a catfish, the illustration may be that of a dragon-serpent.[2]

Even though the Namazu was held responsible for the disaster,[b] it was also ironically hailed as a yonaoshi daimyōjin (god of "world rectification"), that is to say, a sort of an "avenger of social injustice" which expressed the public's political sentiment at the time.[14][15] The rich had hoarded their wealth but these were largely disgorged due to the earthquake, and redistributed to the world at large: such is the symbolism of the large gold coins (koban, etc.) scattered by the earthquake depicted in the pictures. A large amount of money went into the rebuilding effort, and the job opportunities resulted in a redistribution of wealth.[16]
One picture is printed with a jingle with the refrain "yo-naoshi, yo-naoshi, tate-naoshi" (literally "world-fixing, world-fixing, re-building",[13] which explicitly makes this connection.

Modern useEdit


Explanatory notesEdit

  1. ^ Ōtsu-e are regarded as precursors to ukiyo-e.[4][5]
  2. ^ And even referred to as norakura namazu ("good-for-nothing namazu") for being such an opportunist catching the gods off-guard.[13]


  1. ^ a b Rabitz, Albrecht; Rabitz, Gisela (2010). “When the Namazu Shakes its Body”, Andon (88), pp. 5–27.
  2. ^ a b c Ouwehand (1964), p. 6.
  3. ^ a b c Smits (2009), pp. 10–11.
  4. ^ Smits (2006), n13.
  5. ^ Ouwehand (1964), p. 46.
  6. ^ Ouwehand (1964), pp. 67–72.
  7. ^ a b Smits, Gregory (2012). "Conduits of Power: What the Origins of Japan's Earthquake Catfish Reveal about Religious Geography". Japan Review (24): 41–65. ISSN 0915-0986. JSTOR 41592687.
  8. ^ Smits, Gregory (2014). Seismic Japan : the long history and continuing legacy of the Ansei Edo earthquake. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-3910-9. OCLC 869303977.
  9. ^ "Sensitivity of Fish to Earthquakes". Nature. 132 (3343): 817. November 1933. Bibcode:1933Natur.132R.817.. doi:10.1038/132817b0. ISSN 0028-0836.
  10. ^ Smits (2009), p. 10.
  11. ^ Smits (2006), p. 1055; Smits (2009), pp. 10–11
  12. ^ Ouwehand (1964), p. 4.
  13. ^ a b Ouwehand (1964), p. 16.
  14. ^ Smits (2006), p. 1046.
  15. ^ Ouwehand (1964), pp. 14–16. "yo-naoshi daimyōjin.
  16. ^ Smits (2006), p. 1055.
  17. ^ Entertainment Weekly: Stan Sakai previews new Usagi Yojimbo, TMNT crossover (April 1, 2017)

External linksEdit