[From January Issue 2011]
In Japan, there is a lot of fortune telling going on. Some TV stations, for example, broadcast “Today’s Fortune Telling” as a morning program, while some magazines and “free papers” contain articles featuring fortune telling. Fortunes are sometimes printed on packages of candy, and some department stores even have their own fortune telling corners. Walking along some busy streets, especially at night, and you can find fortune tellers counseling customers at little desks that they have set up.
In Japan, various fortune telling methods from many different countries are on offer. As early as the eighth century, India, the birthplace of Buddhism, introduced fortune telling, while in Japan, the old capital of Kyoto was built based on Chinese influences. From the Meiji period (1868~1912) onward, Western astrology and tarot seeped in. Lately, there have even been methods of telling fortunes by using ancient Mayan calendars.
Now, Japanese television programs and magazines often feature astrology, and fortune telling by blood type. Astrology tells one’s fortune based on the position of celestial bodies when a person is born. But, invented in Japan in the 1970s, blood type fortune telling uses the ABO blood group system (a blood-classification system based on red blood cell count), in order to divine one’s fortune, or to see whether or not two people are compatible with each other. Previously, there were also booms in the ancient Chinese art of feng shui (the ancient system of balancing aesthetics) and Doubutsu Uranai (animal-type categorization by birth date). However, lately, “power spots,” which are said to make people healthier and more energetic, are being given media attention.
Some fortune tellers provide counseling by e-mail or over the phone, or meet their clients at coffee shops. “I tell people’s fortunes with tarot, so I need a rather big table that I can spread my cards across,” says fortune teller TAKAHASHI Kiriya. “Some people have serious troubles, so I make it a point of picking a quiet coffee shop where there is enough space between tables. My most popular client requests are first about their fortunes regarding love, then about their work.”
Takahashi specializes in telling fortunes using the tarot, and Western astrology. She says: “As I had always liked fortune telling, I studied it on my own first, met a good mentor, and became a fortune teller at the age of 25. Since many tarot cards have beautiful pictures on them, I collect them for purposes other than just my work.” Takahashi recently wrote a book on how to become a fortune teller, titled “Uranaishi Nyumon” (A Beginner’s Guide to Becoming a Fortune Teller). “There is really a lot to learn about fortune telling. I continue to study by telling famous people’s fortunes and then checking to see if I was right about them, all while examining new theories,” she says.
“Japan today seems to have become a society where it’s difficult for people to speak with one another, even if they are in trouble. In the olden days, people were able to turn to their family and neighbors,” says Takahashi. “Unlike in America, counseling is not common here. But people still want someone willing to listen to them, and to give them advice. I think fortune tellers are meeting those needs.”
Some schools teaching handicrafts, art and languages, also offer courses in fortune telling. The Asahi Culture Center Shinjuku, which offers various courses including providing Japanese education to non-Japanese, has also been offering, as of October 2010, ten fortune telling related courses. One of them is the Shisen Suimei (Four Pillars of Destiny) Class taught by Kokumon, who studies Oriental fortune telling specializing in feng shui.
“I don’t think Japanese people particularly like fortune telling. In my opinion, of all Asian peoples, the Japanese are the least enthusiastic about feng shui,” says Kokumon. “In India, for example, if a fortune teller says that you can’t marry someone because you are not made for each other, it may be impossible to do so. In China, businessmen are serious about making use of feng shui for work. In Japan, on the other hand, most fans of fortune telling are women. And it seems like they are just enjoying it rather than making use of it.”
Kokumon continues: “Since the 1990s, more and more people in Western countries have become interested in feng shui, but generally they still don’t really know much about it. On the other hand, in China ordinary people believe in feng shui. Given this, the Japanese interest in it can be said to fall somewhere between Asian and Western countries.”
“In America, feng shui is popular among Hollywood celebrities,” says American Suzanne BLESCH. When she first came to Japan, Blesch was very surprised to see “Today’s Fortune Telling” broadcast on TV just like a weather report. “In America, young women also like astrology, if anything, but not as much as Japanese women. Besides, there are some types of fortune telling that seem absurd. For example, fortune telling using the initials of people’s names has too little variation,” she says.
But now, Blesch too enjoys fortune telling. She admits that “On a morning that I hear today’s lucky color is green, I look for green items or clothes to put on. If I hear that I should be careful about human relations, I act more cautiously. I think Japanese fortune-telling is fun, amusing, and instructive. But when I hear that something bad is going to happen, I try not to believe it.”
John ZHEN, another American, was amazed to see a fortune telling corner at a Japanese department store. “Of course, we have fortune tellers in the USA, and some of them are very famous. But generally, fortune tellers operate somewhere out-of-sight such as in the back streets. Also, American fortune tellers try to stress how scientific their methods are, but in Japan people seem to prefer it if fortune telling is mysterious,” he says.
SUZUKI Ai, a Japanese woman living in Tokyo, loves consulting fortune tellers. She says, “I’ve read many books especially on astrology, and what they say is really true. The fortune teller told me things like, ‘You have a good fortune, but it will run out unless you make efforts’ or ‘Something bad might happen to you, so you should try to enhance your fortune by doing a good deed.’ Hearing those things allows me to think positively, like ‘Okay, I’ll try hard and do good things.’”
Of course, there are some Japanese who can’t be bothered with fortune telling. However, most it seems, either like discussing it or enjoy trying it.
Text: SAZAKI Ryo