Housewife Utako Ando (not her real name), 41, has been interested in fortunetelling for a long time. One day, a fortuneteller told her that her home would be robbed, and when she came back from vacation she found the prediction had come true. “That really surprised me,” she says. “I believe fortunetellers can make accurate predictions — probably more than 80 percent of the time.” Ando recently began studying astrology and tarot at Tarim, a fortunetelling school in Harajuku. There are four other students, in their 20s to 40s, in the Thursday tarot class she is taking.
“I found out about the school from a magazine. My husband and children have been very encouraging, saying I should follow my interests. In the future, I would like to become a professional,” she says.
Located on Takeshita Street, the teenage mecca in Harajuku, Tarim opened its doors for business in 1986. It pioneered the concept of the “fortunetellers’ house,” where a variety of different fortunetellers work together under one roof. Today there are more than 50 registered fortunetellers of various specialties at Tarim, working in 12 booths by turn.
Several years ago Tarim opened its school to foster prospective professionals to work in its fortunetellers’ house. At present nearly 100 people, aged 18 to 80-something, are studying there. They all have different reasons for attending the school, says Shuka Ogino, a member of Tarim’s office staff. “For some, especially the aged, fortunetelling is merely a personal hobby, but many others hope to use the knowledge for a future profession,” she says.
Currently, only about 10 percent of the students are male, but inquiries from men have been increasing, which may reflect job insecurity in the workplace, Ogino says.
After graduating from the school, students can be registered with Tarim as “fortune counselors.” To secure a place in a booth, however, they must have studied for at least 20 months, which costs about 800,000 yen and includes a 30,000 yen entrance charge.
Fortunetelling has become big business in Japan and profits can be tremendous. Popular fortunetellers with a regular clientele can easily earn 1 million yen a month, and women’s magazines post higher than normal sales when they feature articles on the subject.
The latest fortunetelling craze, which hit the country last year, is dobutsu uranai (animal fortunetelling). In this newly invented system a person’s birthdate is used to determine his or her “animal” from the 12 available (including one imaginary creature, Pegasus), which define certain personality types and behavioral patterns.
Dobutsu uranai originally appeared in Big Comic Spirits magazine as a fortunetelling serial, and was published in book form last June as “Ningen Maruwakari no Dobutsu Uranai (All About Humans Using Dobutsu Uranai).” The book has been a tremendous success, with more than 2.02 million copies sold to date.
Pleased with the success of the book, the publisher Shogakukan put out two more sequels, “Ren’ai Dobutsu Ura-nai (Love Dobutsu Uranai)” last November and “Aisho Maruwakari no Dobutsu Uranai (All About Relationships Using Dobutsu Uranai)” last December, which have sold 400,000 and slightly more than 1 million copies respectively.
Dobutsu uranai is similar to “blood-type fortunetelling,” a belief that one’s blood type has an influence on one’s personality, in that it focuses more on one’s personality and relationship with others than on luck.
In the early 1980s, the whole nation was fascinated by the seemingly “scientific” theory behind blood types. Even after many scholars examined the theory and concluded that there was no correlation between blood type and personality, many people continued to believe in the connection.
“There are no decisive factors that can determine one’s personality, future or compatibility with other people or one’s job. Yet, people want certainty, and to live a happy meaningful life, so they turn to fortunetelling,” says Satoru Kikuchi, a psychologist and the author of “Yogen no Shinrigaku (The Psychology of Prophecy).”
Uran Morikawa, a professional fortuneteller at Tarim, says 90 percent of her clients are women of varying age groups who have serious love- or job-related problems. She says she was surprised to find that one out of 10 of her clients would cry during a fortunetelling session.
“They pour out their hearts to me in tears, but when the session is over they look refreshed and leave with a smile. They probably want somebody to listen to them just as much as they want advice,” Morikawa says.
Kikuchi points out that fortunetellers play a similar role to counselors in Japan. “People can confess their secrets and problems they can’t talk about even with friends and family, in a safe space. It has a kind of cathartic effect,” he says.
The psychologist, however, warns of the dangers of mixing up fortunetellers and professional counselors. “Fortunetellers are not doctors — you should always keep this in mind. If your distress stems from a physical or mental disease and you consult fortunetellers instead of doctors or counselors, you might miss out on necessary medical treatment,” he says.
Even so, many people find it hard to go to counselors with their problems, since counseling has still not become generally accepted in Japan, says Chikara Kato, who gives unique lectures on unmeigaku (literally “the study of fate and destiny”) at a junior college in Nagoya. “Many Japanese people only go to counselors after their problems have become serious. They find fortunetellers more accessible than counselors,” he says.
Kato worked nights as a professional fortuneteller for five years while in college and graduate school, but firmly says he does not believe in divination at all.
Several years ago, he examined seimei-handan, or fortunetelling that analyzes the number of strokes used to write a person’s name. He took the names of lucky people, such as those who had won big lottery prizes, and unlucky ones, such as those killed in airplane crashes, from newspapers, and analyzed their names in a computer. He found no correlation at all between a person’s name and his/her luck, he says.
Many other systems of divination have been examined by scholars, but none have been proved reliable. “Fortunetelling is different from forecasting. It’s pure guesswork,” Kato says. “But it can be a good tool when giving advice to young people. If I didn’t know anything about fortunetelling, they wouldn’t listen to me. They’d just think I was a strange middle-aged man preaching at them.”
Ryuji Kagami, a well-known astrologist who introduced the new genre of psychological astrology to Japan, admits that divination is not objectively reliable. “The interpretation of a horoscope differs greatly depending on the person reading it. But whether or not fortunetellers can divine the future is no big deal to me,” he says.
Kagami says he does not like the idea of a society where only logical or scientific things are accepted. “Horoscopes are very personal things. Your horoscope will be completely different from anyone else’s,” he says. “I like astrology because it gives us a sense of fate. It makes you feel that your life was created for you by God or the stars or whatever, and that it is unique. If you can find a personal message in your horoscope, don’t you think that would be nice?”