Following the Ansei Edo Earthquake of 1855, Japanese print makers produced hundreds of varieties of catfish picture prints (namazu-e). These prints afforded the common people of Edo (soon to become Tokyo) an ideal vehicle for commenting on politics and society under the cover of discussing the recent earthquake. Some were sharply critical of the existing situation, and some adumbrated alternative political and social visions. One of these visions was of "Japan" as a natural community. Some prints portrayed the earthquake that shook Edo as having shaken all of Japan, and others incorporated events of the recent past into new narratives of world-renewal and change. The solar deity Amaterasu, who played a prominent role in national ideology after 1868, first came to widespread attention in Edo via these prints. In this and other ways, the catfish picture prints helped lay the psychological groundwork for the process of "making Japanese" that would begin in earnest after 1868. Furthermore, owing to a coincidence in which 1855 and 1867 were both years of special religious significance, it is likely that the folk memory of the Ansei Edo Earthquake helped condition popular expectations of upheaval and change during the Tokugawa bakufu's final year.


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