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The Earthquake Fish (Japanese Folk Tale)

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Mukashi, Mukashi, (as most Japanese stories begin), long, long ago, when the gods came down from heaven to subdue the earth for the mikados, and civilize the country, there were a great many earthquakes, and nothing to stop them. The world continually rocked, and men’s houses and lives were never safe.

Now the two gods who were charged with the work of subduing the northeastern part of the world were Kashima and Katori. Having done their work well, and quieted all the enemies of the Sun-goddess, they came to the province of Hitachi. Kashima, sticking his sword into the earth, ran it through to the other side, leaving the hilt above the ground. In the course of centuries this mighty sword shrunk and turned to stone, and the people gave it the name of Kanamé ishi, (The rock of Kanamé).

Now Kanamé means the rivet in a fan, that holds all the sticks together, and they gave the name “rivet-rock,” because it is the rivet that binds the earth together. No one could ever lift this rock except Kashima the mighty one who first set it in the earth.

Yet even Kashima never raises it, except to stop an earthquake of unusual violence. When the earth quivers, it is because the great earthquake-fish or jishin-uwo is restless or angry. This jishin-uwo is a great creature something like a catfish. It is about seven hundred miles long, and holds the world on its back. Its tail is at Awomori in the north, and the base of its head is at Kioto, so that all Japan lies on top of it. To his mouth are attached huge twirling feelers, which are just like the hideous moustaches which the hairy-faced men from beyond the Tai-kai (Pacific Ocean) wear on their lips. As soon as these begin to move, it is a sign that the monster is in wrath. When he gets angry, and flaps his tail or bumps his head, there is an earthquake. When he flounders about or rolls over, there is terrible destruction of life and property on the surface of the earth above.

In order to keep the earthquake-fish quiet, the great giant Kashima is appointed to watch him. His business is to stand near by, and when the monster becomes violent Kashima must jump up and straddle him, and hold his gills, put his foot on his fin; and when necessary lift up the great rock of Kanamé and hold him down with its weight. Then he becomes perfectly quiet, and the earthquake ceases. Hence the people sing this earthquake verse:

“No monster can move the Kanamé rock

Though he tug at it never so hard,

For over it stands, resisting the shock,

The Kashima Kami on guard.”

Another verse they sing as follows:

“These are things

An earthquake brings;

At nine of the bell they sickness fortell,

At five and seven betoken rain,

At four the sky is cleared thereby,

At six and eight comes wind again.”