Archive for January 2004
Phew, that was a bit scary, actually. You won’t catch Ramage going up in one of those again.
Nor one of these, neither:
Image selected from a huge number of weird and wonderful early aircraft to be found at flyingmachines.org.
Igo Etrich’s rather beautiful Tailless Parasol was found at Monash University’s Hargrave site, “celebrating the bi-centennial of aviation, 1804-2004”.
Looking to see if I could find out more about the heavily-armed catfish of a previous post, I discovered that according to Japanese folklore, it is the movements of giant catfish under the islands of Japan that cause earthquakes there. These creatures are known as namazu, and this is a picture of the one that caused the 1855 Tokyo earthquake.
From The Kozak Collection: Images of Historical Earthquakes at the National Information Service for Earthquake Engineering, based at the University of California in Berkeley.
Here you can find fascinating and terrific (in the old sense too of inducing terror) images of earthquakes from Arequipa, (1868) to Zagreb (1880). A whole slew or seiche or landslip of them in fact, indexed by date and location.
This image is particularly extraordinary – it is, apparently, “a sketch showing the trajectory of the particle movements during the earthquake at Tokyo on Jan 15 1887.”
After being momentarily shaken from my quest for the catfish samurai by such images, I found more on namazu, and other Japanese monsters, and the subtle distinctions made between those considered real, and those that belong more to the realm of the uncanny, in this fascinating chapter from a book on Japanese popular culture by Gregory James Smits. What’s especially interesting here are the attendant social and cultural metaphors – the namazu as social levellers, “forcing the rich to excrete money”, or as Perry’s “barbarian steamships”, ‘rectifying’ the world, big and black like the real namazu, and also like Daikoku, the deity of good fortune who dishes out money, whose name means “Big Black”. Here he is, on the back of a namazu, dispensing largesse to a delighted populace, and here’s a treasure ship, the hull of which is the body of a namazu, both images being published in 1855 shortly after, both an earthquake, and the arrival of Perry’s ships. Daikoku has a mallet, you’ll note. The movers and shakers among the power elite in Japanese society were, of course, also referred to colloquially as namazu.
Going back to my catfish samurai, his description from the Ono Collection site translated, according to the WorldLingo online translator as “Benkei raw [untranslated character] instrument”. OK, now, that exact phrase drew a blank from Google (a googleblank -hey, I just made a word…), as you might expect, but Benkei, he was somebody.
Benkei was a legendary Japanese warrior from the feudal wars of 12th century Japan, who defended his master until the very last moment against overwhelming odds. The two things that make an image of Benkei recognizable in a woodblock print are that he has a huge body, and that he wears a little black cap. Big and black, again. Could we be getting somewhere here? A Benkei Japanese Steakhouse maybe, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, not so far from Ezell’s Catfish Cabin, or any number of catfish eateries where you can eat catfish. Dang these cross-cultural metaphors, Ramage, that’s not a big black catfish you have there, that’s a big ol’ red herring…
However, there’s this guy Craig, right, and he collects Japanese phonecards, on one of which is an image of Raiden Beach, near Iwanai in Hokkaido, a popular beauty-spot where there’s a rock known as “Benkei’s Sword-rack” – the sword-rack being that thing on our catfish’s back where he keeps his armoury of hammers, axes, saws etc. So the power of the earthquake-producing catfish is being reinforced by association with this powerful warrior Benkei. Here’s a site (in French) that puts some of the links together. Earthquakes cause a lot of upheaval, but they put money into the pockets of the working-class artisans who have to put everything back together again. Wouldn’t it be great if that money could stay in their pockets instead of finding its way back to the rich? Maybe if I buy a picture of a catfish, especially one dressed as Benkei the warrior, that’ll help me in this struggle. There was a whole subgenre of woodblock prints with exactly this sort of putting-the-world-to-rights, shaking things up, message, called namazu-e.
From France. From Italy, in black, and white. Denmark – “mounting forks”! “hexnuts”! – Cambodia, Equatorial Guinea (successfully borne home after “a fierce sniping war on ebay”), Uruguay -“tiger-striping” – and, of course, the good old US of A.
I particularly like the last but one there, the Milky Mint Mickey, though the black Italian one is uncannily like an abstract Futurist bust of Mussolini I recently saw in the Imperial War Museum…