February 18, 2020
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A Fishy Story

A Fishy Story
O, then the earth shook to see the heavens on fire/ And not in fear of your nativity./ Diseased nature oftentimes breaks forth/ In strange eruptions; oft the teeming earth/ Is with a kind of colic pinched and vexed/ By the imprisoning of unruly wind/ Within her womb, which for enlargement striving/ Shakes the old bedlam earth, and topples down/ Steeples and moss-grown towers. At your birth/ Our grandam earth, having this distemp’rature,/ In passion shook.

That was Hotspur to Glyndwr in Shakespeare’s Henry IV. A perfectly good replication of medieval England, its logic and its understanding of the forces of nature. In this case, the cause of earthquakes. As with all cultures, the Japanese too have their own version of Hotspur’s thesis on why the earth rumbles and moves. Japanese folklore has it that their islands rest on the back of a great catfish, a namazu, lying curled up under the sea. He’s kept from moving by a demi-god, a daimyojin, who holds a heavy stone over his head. But there’s always scope for error and once in a while the daimyojin does get distracted, the namazu then seizes his opportunity and moves and the earth trembles.

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