Earthquakes and cream

Being crushed under a falling pillar has historically been one of the better ways to be killed by an earthquake in Japan. The survivors of the quake itself had to deal with devastating city-wide fires for days afterward, and then poverty, starvation, and disease in the weeks and months that followed. Plus, if primary sources are to be believed, the populace could also expect constant taunting by anthropomorphic catfish, and the wealthy were all too vulnerable to... gold disease.

The nishiki-e a portion of which is shown at right, Fat cats with gold disease (長者金の病ひ), depicts three victims of this unique affliction. As you can see, it causes them to lose wealth. From both ends. Explosively.

"Losing it all like this is just unbearable; I try to hold it in, but my ass has just gotten so loose..." sighs one. The second wishes aloud for a doctor to cure him, but observes that "as the state of our guts gets worse, the world gets better and better" (わたくしどものはらあんばいハわるくなりますかハりよのなかハじうぶんよくなる). The third, cheered by this thought, decides to go for one more "big katamari".

Uncharacteristic generosity is, clearly, one side effect of gold disease. It may be that their hearts grew three sizes that day. (Certainly many other internal organs would have to have stretched considerably to pass Edo currency.)

For another example, go here and search for "持○長者" ("Super-rich fat cats"). These three have big plans. "Let's choose those suffering the most and help them out," says one. "Surely there could be no greater charity than this!" (The word I translate as "charity" is 陰徳, which means "an act of generosity/kindness performed in secret"; given the source of the donation, I think this secrecy is well advised.)

"Yes, yes!" cries another. "Children with no parents, parents with no children, blind people, old people, that's who we should give alms to." The caption ends feverishly envisioning the extension of this generosity to everyone whose house was damaged in the quake. In the bottom right corner, the rich are urged to "clean out their filled-up stomachs" (たまりしはらのそうじしたまへ).

My final example, explicitly drawing the connection: gold disease cures the disease of poverty (ひんのやまひ).

Let me summarize. Hoarded wealth is a kind of constipation. Earthquakes are a laxative, freeing liquid assets to circulate among tradesmen. This is the basis of a healthy capitalist economy, but some oversight by catfish is required to ensure that everything -- and everyone -- runs smoothly.

Popularity factor: 8


Have you seen the prints about the effects of smallpox on prostitutes and bucket makers? Not quite the same, but equally celebatory in mood.


No, I haven't! Do you have any good links or titles to check out?


Fantastically bizarre.


I will have to see if I can find the references to smallpox-prints again. It's something I ran across in a book once....


You know, for some reason your posts don't show up in the livejournal feed any more. I'm clearly missing all the classy stuff! ;)

(Seriously, what the heck is up with the RSS these days?)


god, i hate to see the image above with a man squatting and .... lol


I dunno -- I did change the feed address, but the old feed should still point to the new one. (Occasionally I break the feed with the contents of my posts, but...) It wasn't even me who set that LJ feed up, though, IIRC, so I'm not sure how to fix it.

aPIs: That's art, man!


for some reason the Tsukuba site doesn't like mt browser, so I found an alternative for your leaky MoneyBags:


Handy transcription, too.

The only Hashika'e (Measles pic) I could find are here:


Matt, I've also sent you a nice article by Gregory Smit on namazu'e that includes your e.g. Enjoy!

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