The Earthquake Fish

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 Kaname ishi, (The rock of Kaname).

Now Kaname 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 Kaname 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 Kaname 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."

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