All Japanese shrines have omikuji (fortune-telling sticks) — just like all McDonald’s have fries.
OK, so my analogy cupboard is bare. So what? Anything will match if you push it a bit.
Fast food, fast fortune. A light snack for either body or soul, with maybe the same thin whisper of nourishment.
And — if small-sized fries — they cost about the same as well. With omikuji, you put down ¥100, rattle the box around and then shake out the fortune stick.
The number on the stick leads to a drawer with a fortune paper in. If the fortune is favorable, you carry it with you. If the fortune — in fortune-telling parlance — sucks, then most people tie the paper around some slender branch, to leave the bad luck behind. Shrines provide trees just for this purpose.
But what I do is slip it into a pocket of a “friend.” For I figure that no bolt of lightning is going to quibble over its target — not for a mere ¥100. Besides, what are friends for?
Today’s friend is visiting Japan for his first time. And he says: “I’m not doing this. It’s superstitious and childish.”
This is the same friend who carries a rabbit’s foot on his key chain, and who raced me to pick up a coin off the station floor (“See a yen and pick it up! And all the day you’ll have good luck!”).
“Oh c’mon,” I tell him. “We’re enlightened souls of the 21st century.” And on this day, I would like to mention, his particular soul is wearing a Homer Simpson T-shirt.
“And this is just for fun. Let’s do it.”
He mumbles something about me being an amoral, ignorant stooge. I mumble something back about him being a million stops from his hotel, and that I might lose him in the crowd.
So he digs out ¥100. And we shake the sticks.
Fortunately, we are at one of the few shrines that offer fortunes in English.
His paper reads, “Moderately Good Fortune.” Mine: “Run now. Run fast.”
“What? I’ve never seen one like this.”
“Listen to mine.” He reads: ” ‘Success, fame, love! All these will be yours!’ If this is moderate, then what’s missing? My very own island? With Kate Upton?”
And mine reads, “Remember the good old days. While you still can.”
“This can’t be right.”
Shinto fortune papers then offer detailed predictions in various “lucky” categories. Only two of mine are somewhat positive.
For “Illness,” it reads, “Why worry? Especially in your case.” And for “Agriculture”: “Buy daisies. They’ll be useful.”
He laughs. “But it’s just for fun, right? Yet — if you’re curious — mine says the only illness I will ever catch is car sickness from my future Lamborghini. So I should stick to my future Jaguar instead. As for agriculture, it says no matter what I plant, I will reap gold.”
“Gimme that!” I yank his paper, to find he has been skipping details, like: He will get carsick from “one” of his future Lamborghinis, the one with the zebra stripes. And after “reaping gold,” it reads, “But why plant at all? If you just dig, you’ll find diamonds the size of pumpkins.”
“I’ve never seen a fortune like this. The priests here must be pranksters.”
“Or geniuses.” Now he has my paper.
“Here’s your reading in the category of ‘The Awaited One’: ‘The Awaited One might be upon you at any moment. So keep your head down and watch your back.’ “
I jump and scan the mass of tourists. For a second, I think one might be my boss. But no; it’s just another fat man with a bad overbite.
And his paper for the same category reads: “Pucker up. She’ll be there soon. And better ditch the fellow you’re with — three’s a crowd. Besides, he doesn’t have long.”
My friend grins at the people walking past, arching his brows at every pretty girl.
“What a wonderful custom! Why didn’t you bring me here before?”
“Because this is totally bogus. A sham. A rip-off. An affront to intelligence.”
“You need to be more enlightened. Like me.” He straightens his Homer Simpson shirt and leans forward, his lips ready for action. The girls eye him and step past in haste.
And I clear my throat and say, “Well, if you really want it to work, you need to tie it to a tree branch, like those others.”
“Duh,” he says. “I knew that.”
And when that’s done, I offer to buy him some fries. And a Coke. For by now, his lips are so dry, he needs lubrication.
“Hurry up,” he says, as he marches ahead. “But besides being thirsty, I feel great. And I’m glad to see you’re not taking this so serious.”
“Ha ha!” I wipe my brow and laugh. “Why should I? It’s all in fun.”
And I just slipped my fortune paper into his bag. Meaning it was right indeed: He should have watched his back.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5