Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Onamazu: Japan's Earthquake Causing Catfish

I've lived my entire life nestled in between the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers, so all my life I've heard the stories of the giant catfish, some as big as school buses, that inhabit the two rivers.  Aside from scaring the heck out of a few underwater welders doing bridge work (and MAYBE being responsible for the Kanawha River being known as the River of Evil Spirits), our tri-state catfish seem to be pretty tame. Japan hasn't been so lucky.

The Land of the Rising Sun is home to a catfish creature known as the Onamazu.

A namazu-e or catfish motif earthquake art, entitled Shin Yoshiwara ┼Źnamazu yurai or "The cause of the great catfish at Shin Yoshiwara".-Source


Obviously, I cannot fully explain Shintoism adequately in one blog post, but the important thing to note is that Shinto is a traditional Japanese religion dating back to the 8th century. It incorporates the worship of ancestors and nature spirits and a belief in sacred power ( kami ) in both animate and inanimate things. -Source: Google Dictionary

Onamazu is one of the kami, and lives UNDER the islands that make up Japan.  It spends most of its days buried in the mud, subject to the rule of the god, Kashima, who uses a stone to keep the giant Onamazu restrained.  However, as soon as Kashima turns his back, the Onamazu begins to thrash about.  The result is an earthquake hitting the country.

The legend is believed to have some roots in history.  It is believed that catfish, like many other animals, have a built-in warning system that alerts them to major geological disruptions, such as earthquakes.  It was thought that the early citizens of what is now Japan noticed the fact that just before an earthquake struck, the catfish in the region became more active. 

Source: Bertel Schmitt


Shinto ceased to be the official religion of Japan in 1945, but references to the Onamazu can still be found throughout the country.  Whiscash, a catfish Pokemon, was originally named Namazun. Onamazu appears in various forms in other media, such as video games, but what I find most interesting is that there is a catfish (excuse me, Onamazu) proudly used in the Japan Meteorological Agency's earthquake early warning materials.

Throughout July and August, ALL EIGHT planets in our solar system will be together on the same side of the sun, an event which historically has coincided with increased earthquake activity.  If you're in Japan over the next 60 days or so, keep an eye out for a big, creepy Onamazu.  And, if you're NOT---well, I guess it wouldn't hurt to keep an eye on your local rivers as well!  I know I'll be monitoring the Kanawha and Ohio River catfish as the tri-state has been known to have had a few good-sized quakes over the years!

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