The works of Sakubei Yamamoto
Omens, Superstitions, Taboos

Underground Rats Seen since the Meiji Era (1868-1912)
1964 - 1967

Meiji Jidai yori Konai Nezumi
[Underground Rats Seen since the Meiji Era (1868-1912)]
38.1 x 54.5 cm Painting in Watercolors and Ink

Text on the Right
Rats did not live in slopes driven so deeply that they became warm by the heat of the earth. Probably no one working at large-scale coal pits (ote yama) would have seen them. They are still seen in slopes near the surface in small-scale coal pits (ko-yama) today. Lots of rats lived in flocks in slopes in small-scale coal pits in the mountains in the past. They were probably a kind of sewer rat. It was bearable if they ate feces underground. However, it was unbearable if they ate miners' lunches. They ate miners' lunches after dropping them from wrapping cloths which the lunches were wrapped in and hung from pillars or frames.
The lunch pail in the past was called a gaga or kuragai and made up of a pair of a lid and a container each with an elliptical bamboo frame and a bottom made of Japanese cedar board. In the end of the Meiji era, aluminum lunch boxes became available.

Text at the Top Right
"Wah, mata yarareta! Kyo mo nagure ja."
"Oh, they ate our lunch again! We must stop working today as well."

Text at the Top Middle
There was a legend that miners were immobilized by rats. The legend says that if pump men (pompukata) who slept underground or lazy (sukabura) miners who always exited the pit without working (noson joshusha) lay on their back underground, they were paralyzed (osowareru in dialect) by rats.
Not only in the pit but also in the row houses on the surface, miners were reportedly paralyzed by rats, being glared at or having their quilts climbed on by them because these houses had no ceilings. The above phenomena can be supposedly explained by the same theory that an ordinary individual sleeping soundly suffers from a bad dream if his/her thumb is put on his/her chest.
It was said that miners could not move nor speak a word, though their eyes and ears worked completely and that the pain disappeared within a minute.

Translation Assisted by Mr. Nathan Johndro

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