Earthquake, Five Hundred Arhats: Scrolls 81 and 82

According to the Lotus Sutra, humans may escape the seven misfortunes of fire, wind, floods, wars, punishments, demons, and thieves by reciting the name of Kannon, goddess of mercy. Here, it is the rakan who are brought to the fore, shown making various gestures of compassion while the diminished bodhisattva virtually recedes into the inky background.

Below, people scramble out from under collapsed buildings and fallen trees, as spear-like flames threaten to engulf them. The debris of destroyed lives is detailed with compelling realism. The Great Ansei Earthquake of November 11, 1855, devastated the city of Edo shortly after Kazunobu began working on the set. Firsthand experience of the catastrophe no doubt informed Kazunobu’s painting, as did the numerous prints and book illustrations produced in the aftermath.

Kano Kazunobu (1816–63)
Japan, Edo Period, ca. 1854–63
Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk
Collection, Zōjōji, Tokyo