Fortune-telling Booming Business in Japan

Fortune-teller Sakita Ayu at her booth in Tokyo

TOKYO (majirox news) — Her boyfriend left her for another woman. Yukiko Goto felt lonely, angry, and humiliated. She couldn’t move on with her life and was desperate to talk to someone about it.

However, the attractive 28-year-old cosmetics company worker, who lives in Tokyo, couldn’t bring herself to open up to someone she knew. She decided to consult a fortune-teller.

I felt like I lost everything and didn’t know where I wanted to go in my life,” she says. “The charm of fortune-telling is that you can talk about your problems and do it anonymously.”

Goto is by no means an exception, according to TV Tokyo; Japanese are spending more than $11.8 million a year on fortune-telling, a figure that’s increasing with the country’s weak economy.

Goto went to a fortune-teller who specializes in names and blood types, but she could just as easily have chosen one of many other types of fortune-telling: numerology, astrology, palmistry, and tarot readings to name but a few.

Like everyone around the world, the Japanese are superstitious; it’s part of human DNA, according to Jeff Kingston, Director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan and author of “Contemporary Japan.” People are anxious about uncertainty and the future and go to fortune-tellers to seek some clarification, a prediction from which they can gain some sort of solace.

I think various people go for various reasons and some are more superstitious than others, from the casual horoscope reader and banter about blood types to those who plan their lives, love, and futures based on soothsayers,” Kingston says.

He notes that people always have uncertainties and always want to cheat fate by getting an edge on the future through predictions that help them prepare psychologically for what may come.

I think many people are driven by a need to control their circumstances and getting a preview on the future feeds that need,” he says. In his view, “it is not unique only to Japan, but rather shows how much Japanese are like people everywhere.”

However, it is hard for young Japanese women to broach serious subjects with their friends, and people tend to avoid close relationships.

Psychologist Satoru Kikuchi says, “Although there are communication opportunities like the Internet and the mobile phone, many young people still want to consult with someone they don’t know.”

According to Kikuchi, the counseling system in Japan lags behind the United States.

Reiko Yuyama, publisher and author, agrees. She notes that the Japanese consult with fortune-tellers as Americans consult with psychoanalysts.

Yuriko Kiwa, a popular fortune-teller in Tokyo’s fashionable Harajuku district, added that sometimes fortune-telling takes the place of counseling because there is a prejudice toward mental illness in Japanese society which deters many people from going to hospitals or clinics specializing in counseling.

There isn’t enough public information in Japan about mental illness,” she says. In fact, there is limited research published by Japanese in international peer-reviewed journals about depression or anxiety. “People are confused about what types of counseling are available and then there is the bias against it. As a result, many people consult fortune-tellers and spiritualists.”

Kiwa says people also use fortune-telling as a tool to explore life and discover who they are. “While some use fortune-telling for entertainment, the majority wants to talk about their problems.”

Most of her clients are women in their 20s and 30s, and some teenagers, who usually talk about love and work. These days, men visit her as well.

According to an article in the Asahi Shimbun, a major newspaper in Japan, since the Lehman shock there has been a large increase in the number of men in their 30s and 40s consulting fortune-tellers. They talk mainly about work problems, especially concerns about being fired and management issues.

Because of the current global financial crunch, many companies in Japan have been forced to downsize their workforce. This means that more work has to be completed by fewer workers — a situation that has only exacerbated the incidence of overwork in Japan.

The stress on workers has been getting stronger and stronger, which has led to more people suffering from mental health illnesses such as depression.

According to Sakita Ayu, a fortune-teller who has worked for the past 15 years in a booth in Tokyo, fortune-telling helps people, especially with problems like money and relationships. “It’s a reflection of today’s society that has become more complicated.”

As for Goto, she finally came to terms with the fact her relationship with her boyfriend ended. The fortune-teller helped ease the pain through a vulnerable time period. She is now wiser, stronger and happier.

I realized I had the power to change,” she says. “A whole new era has opened for me.”

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One Response to Fortune-telling Booming Business in Japan

  1. Casper on 02/18/2011 at 10:03 pm

    I think that what the Japanese culture is missing is a “true” religion. Most only go to Shinto shrines for weddings or Buddist temples to attend funerals. Most are not attending weekly gatherings or services, where one can learn how to deal with their problems, better themselves, and help others.

    Fortune-tellers are okay, if they help them. But, I think that most will tell you what you want to hear (or else, you would not go back to them, right?).

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