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“Catfish” Catastrophe in Japan

Gregory Smits will present an illustrated lecture discussing representations of the Ansei Edo earthquake in popular prints. The talk will be in the Susquehanna Room of the HUB on February 26 at 7:00 p.m. All are welcome.

At about 10:00 p.m. on November 11, 1885, a strong earthquake shook Edo (modern Tokyo), Japan’s de facto capital. The earthquake killed roughly 8,000 and did extensive damage to certain areas of the city. Along with death and destruction, the earthquake created opportunities for windfall profits for many of the city’s ordinary residents. One product of this earthquake was hundreds of varieties of broadside prints. These prints came to be called “catfish prints” (namazue) because many of them featured catfish, which symbolized the power of earthquakes.

Gregory Smits is associate professor of history and Asian studies at Pennsylvania State University. His recent research deals with earthquakes in Japan, and he is the author of Seismic Japan: The Long History and Continuing Legacy of the Ansei Edo Earthquake (University of Hawai’i Press, 2013), When the Earth Roars: Lessons from the History of Earthquakes in Japan (Rowman and Littlefield, March 2014), and several articles on earthquake prints.

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