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Geologic Japan 2- Namazu

Page history last edited by Jonathan Simms 9 years, 8 months ago

History of Geologic Japan: Why the Earth Shook!



The Legend of NAMAZU




Why does Japan experience so many earthquakes?

Japan is situated on 4 very active plates: 

the Eurasian/Chinese Plate, the North American Plate, the Philippine Plate and the Pacific Plate.

These plates move continuously producing a lot of energy that gets released from time to time in earthquakes that vary in magnitude and effects.  Unfortunately, catastrophic earthquakes are nothing new for this region and the Japanese people have adapted to the daily exposure of tremors. 

Notice the 4 plates move towards each other almost sandwiching the islands of Japan in the middle.



In most cases, when plates meet, one of the plates has to win, and like a playground fight, the victorious plate shoves the loser's face into the ground.  Japan is primarily formed in this manner by subduction-- where one plate is shoved under the other.



When one plate is subducted under the other, great amounts of pressure and heat form and it must go somewhere.  All of this heat and pressure cause the phenomenons of earthquakes, geysers, hot springs, and volcanoes, which Japan has plenty.   

Today, thanks to innovations in science, we know that Japan's formation and geologic processes are due to the country's placement on plate boundaries. 







However, this knowledge has only been around for a short time-- geologically speaking.  



So the burning question I'm sure is on all of your minds: 

What did the Japanese believe caused the earthquakes hundreds of years ago?


A large mischievous catfish named Namazu.

Namazu: The Earthshaker

Japanese mythology stated that the giant catfish, Namazu,  that lived deep under the Japan island arc, was the cause of all the earthquakes.  Namazu is one of the yo-kai  ("monster"), the creatures of Japanese mythology and folklore that were associated or caused misfortune or disasters.


Historically, the Japanese people often associated Namazu with many natural disasters and disorder in the balance of the cosmic forces. It was much later, during the eighteenth century, that the Japanese began to associate Namazu specifically with earthquakes.  





Namazu is only controlled by the god Kashima.  Kashima is able to use a powerful capstone to push Namazu against the underground to immobilize him at times, however Kashima sometimes gets tired or is distracted from his duty, and Namazu can move a bit and cause an earthquake.

Caption: 4 other catfish represent past historical earthquakes.


Various other liberties that  were taken when describing the myth of Namazu:

the god Kadori controlling the catfish, with the help of a giant and magical pumpkin


One of my favorites:

A picture by the Japanese artist Kadzusa-ya Iwaz├┤ of 1842 lampooning the myth of Namazu, a Tanuki (a sort of mythical raccoon-dog with the ability to enlarge voluntarily parts of his body) is subduing the catfish with his giant scrotum.


Namazu : Present Day

With advancement in science, Namazu became just what he is: a colorful myth. 

However, the Japanese still celebrate Namazu through popular culture.  Statues, art, music, and food can be found incorporating Namazu. Most recently, depictions of Namazu were used by artists to raise monies for the March 11, 2011 earthquake/tsunami that hit the island of Honshu.  One example is below:





Got to have some Japanese music culture as well:



Hope I did not bore you, but at least you now have some titillating conversation while drinking with your friends this weekend.





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