Home Political science Capturing contemporary Japan: differentiation and uncertainty
The Divination arts in Girl Culture
Two young women, both wearing high school uniforms, were browsing in an accessory shop in the western section of tokyo. The girl with the short hair and ready smile was a sagittarius, and she was looking for something very specific: “One of my Lucky Goods for this month is a gold-colored hair ornament. So i'm getting this one,” she told me, holding out the sparkly gold clip with a tiny pink skull on it. She had read an astrological horoscope in Popteen magazine (one of hundreds of teen magazines with an english name) and wanted to get one of the recommended sagittarian “lucky” items for the month. What is interesting about her choice is how it illustrates not only the ubiquity of an appropriated western divination system, but also the manner in which it has seamlessly become enmeshed with the common activity of shopping.
A noticeable escalation of interest in divination and other occult pursuits in Japan was evident during the 1980s, when critics began talking about an uranai būmu (divination boom). Many scholars, including suzuki (1995), Kawano (1995), and Miller (1997), noticed the preponderance of women as consumers of divination schemas and services. Taneda (2000) also described the divination industry as being under the control of women as both producers and consumers of services. Time-consuming and occasionally expensive
247 Divination activities have, therefore, been dominated by girls and women for many years. This feminization of fortune-telling results in a preponderance of female aesthetics and tastes being channeled into a diverse range of new or refurbished fortune-telling types and services. While middle-aged and senior women continue to be fascinated by older forms of divination, such as palmistry or the Chinese zodiac, young girls create and consume multiple genres of creolized and occasionally humorous divination. They might use their cell phones to look up tarot card readings or pay for automated forecasts in booths at entertainment parks.
Since 2002 there has been an expansion of divination themes and images in all forms of popular culture but especially in ways that are intended to appeal to a female consumer. This shift is partly because the majority of divination production is now in the hands of women. Many of the trendy divination salons are owned and run by women, and the divination booths in malls are mainly staffed by women. Women are the primary artists, creators, and producers behind the recent flood of new tarot card designs, occult goods, web sites, and divination magazines and books. Although girls and women are now at the forefront of divination production, this chapter will focus primarily on the consumption of divination services and goods.
I am interested in looking at divination not simply because it is a substantial market, but also because it provides recognition of female interests, activities, and economic impact. My aim is not to discover the degree to which girls and young women believe in the efficacy of such practices. There already exist hundreds of surveys that attempt to answer versions of questions such as “Do you think divination is accurate?” Rather, i want to explore the ways that the divination industry has accommodated the aesthetic, social, and entertainment interests of young women and girls.
Exploring Feminized Texts and Spaces
Divination products, media, and services are usually categorized under the term uranai (divination). I use the word here to mean practices that intend to predict future events or discover hidden knowledge. Some long-standing and popular divination types in Japan are western and Chinese astrology, Chinese geomancy or feng shui, tarot cards, i Ching (Book of Changes), and physiognomy (reading the traits of the face and body). Western-style astrology has been fully assimilated in Japan and is included in most monthly women's magazines, broadcast on tv, and displayed on LCD screens hanging down in Subway trains. Chinese feng shui, introduced to Japan many centuries ago, is now popular among young women seeking advice on how best to use specific spaces, such as itō's (2007) guide to “car feng shui” for female car owners. Itō provides tips for a car's interior design and furnishings that will improve the owner's future prospects and financial success. Specialized feng shui such as the one she proposes are well represented among the thousands of books in this genre. There are, for example, books and courses on workplace feng shui, makeup feng shui, and toilet feng shui.
Some of the schoolgirls and young women with whom i spoke also understood feng shui to include the use of colors to aid in success. One duo i met had yellow charms that they always carried on shopping days because they had read in a shared book that yellow is the color that attracts wealth. A woman in her twenties named aya told me about a book entitled Girly Feng Shui Magic Makeup that she shared with her friend reiko (takako and Mirey 2008). The two of them experimented with some of the book's suggestions, such as hairstyles and nail polish colors, that would enhance their careers or relationships. They didn't see the book as something that should be taken seriously; they just thought it might be enjoyable to play around with the ideas in the book, each trying different themes and telling the other what she thought about the results.
Although the Ministry of economy, trade, and industry does not provide statistical information about the divination industry, according to one estimate the industry generates the equivalent of $8.5 billion a year (Brasor 2006). Japanese critics are generally contemptuous of anything related to divination, dismissing it as nothing more than silly “superstition.” For example, in an article in the Asahi Shinbun (Matsukawa and Ogawa 2011), the writers conflate divination and the occult, warning of dangerous occult dabbling and religious cult entrapment. When we approach the subject from an anthropological perspective, however, we try to understand it on its own terms and from the insider's stance rather than from the perspective of an outsider's norms and ideas. In this case, older men, who are not active participants in girl culture, often project their own ideas and attitudes onto their descriptions of female cultural activities. Unfortunately, most recent news reporting on the popularity of divination narrowly focuses on street fortune-tellers and their potential exploitation of clients. Murata (2012) interviewed only female divination enthusiasts who were characterized as “addicted” to the services provided by street fortune-tellers, noting the escalation in complaints submitted to the national Consumer affairs Center of Japan. A common stereotype about divination, Which reporters such as Murata perpetuate, continues to be that it is a sketchy business provided by stigmatized social groups (resident Koreans at one time made up the majority of street fortune-tellers) who set up temporary tables near high-traffic train stations. Contrary to this portrait, my research reveals a much broader range of services, from upscale and trendy divination salons to corporation-owned stalls in elegant shopping malls, where women and girls enjoy divination not as a type of addiction or irrational belief but as an enjoyable social activity with entertainment value.
In addition, the study of divination in Japan does not fit very well into many scholarly and scientific interpretive frames, in which understanding of religious behavior is often centered on doctrine and individual “belief.” There are countless government polls and private-sector surveys of Japanese divination, and these sometimes reflect an obsession with how much people believe in the accuracy of divination types. Furthermore, one common overt or implied message these polls send is that participation in divination activities, which is highest among girls and women, reflects illogical and unscientific thinking. In contrast, this chapter views divination as a behavior that deserves to be understood as a legitimate cultural practice that has value, rather than seeing it as evidence of an unsanctioned ideology.
Divination is a social practice found among many girls and young women who enjoy exploring a multitude of augury styles and types. As one twentytwo-year-old woman told me, “i like tarot cards, i Ching, and runes because they are ancient types of divination and are also fun to do with my friends.” My understanding of divination is based on analysis of texts and fieldwork conducted since 2002. Rather than a concern with individual beliefs about the efficacy of divination, the cultural studies approach used here views it as a meaningful social practice about which we can learn through a variety of media and observations. I spoke to or interviewed ten young women and girls between the ages of fifteen and twenty-two. My encounter with divination in girl culture is also based on observation of behavior in explicitly marked divination booths and shops and derives from participant observation in other venues as well, including shrines, bead shops, bookstores, and game arcades. I often discovered divination subjects and imagery whenever i entered female-oriented consumption spaces. For example, neko no Mise, a tokyo café featuring resident cats that customers can play with while sipping a cup of coffee, once offered tarot card readings a few times a month by a fortuneteller named ririco. Two women i encountered in the café had originally gone there simply to visit with the cats and catch up with each other's news, but Since there was someone on the premises giving tarot readings, they thought that would be something fascinating to try as long as they were there. After the reading they spent more than thirty minutes talking to each other about what the fortune-teller had said, trying to tie her words to specific events in their lives. Similarly, while doing research on annotated self-photography, i often saw photos on which girls had written their divination blood type (ketsueki-gata) or Chinese or western zodiac sign next to their images (Miller 2003, 2005). For example, four girls getting their photo stickers made in an arcade each added the image of their Chinese zodiac animal above their heads. Since there is not much time allowed to add graphics and text to the photos before they are printed, the foursome had decided on adding the zodiac animals before they even got in the booth.
What is it about divination that girls in particular find so attractive? Scholars of religion and ritual in Japan have probed the diverse functions of divination from a variety of perspectives. For example, Kawano (1995) investigated the relationship between single women and their interest in divination during a liminal period spanning the years after graduation and before marriage. She also noted that divination was a social endeavor for women during gatherings or at holidays, a continuing aspect of its appeal. For young women and girls, divination is available as an imaginative activity that readily caters to their tastes and aesthetics. One illustration of this are the many types of tarot cards designed in Japan on which gothic european landscapes are replaced with adorable animals or endearingly cute scenes (Miller 2011). Divination is also popular among girls because it is something they can do with others, facilitating sharing and bonding. The two girls in the accessory shop described above talked about divination-related charms they ought to buy for friends and family, comparing ideas and assessments about the most appropriate or suitable items that would complement someone's personality and birth date.
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