Home Political science Capturing contemporary Japan: differentiation and uncertainty
Playing with Divinatory Genres
I was talking to a schoolgirl named naoko about the sheet of stickers with tiny photos on it that she and her friend tomoko had just printed from a self-photography booth.1 we were in an arcade in the popular teen-thronged shopping and entertainment area of tokyo known as Harajuku, a place that was crammed with automated photo sticker machines called “print club” (purikura). Suddenly tomoko began laughing about something she was viewing on her cell phone. I asked if it was another funny photo perhaps, but she Claimed it was only a cute web site. Pressed, tomoko revealed that it was an online divination site that provides a forecast based on a person's “cake” personality. The system works as follows: you go to the Cake Divination web site and enter your name and date of birth, and you are assigned a cake type (such as Chocolate Cake, Chiffon Cake, Baked Cheesecake, or Fruit tart) that best captures your personality type. For example, someone who is the shortcake is said to have the qualities of a fashion leader. Although shortcake folks have a policy of being fashionable, they still aren't gaudy or ostentatious—they are good at casually combining accessories and dressing according to the time, place, and occasion. A shortcake who entered her birthday on this site was told that in a previous life she was a triceratops dinosaur. Cake Divination can easily be accessed via one's cell phone from the i-mode, softBank, and eZweb carriers.2
When i asked tomoko how she came upon Cake Divination, she told me she often found lists of fun divination web sites and has visited hundreds of them, including Cat Character Divination, yamanote train Line Divination, and tv Drama Divination. She said that she occasionally looked at “regular” divination online sites for dream divination, blood typology, and astrology. Cake Divination is one of the popular internet divination types that have become a large part of girls' cell phone and internet culture. Indeed, according to Goo research, Cake Divination is on the top ten “most want to do” list of internet divination types based on a poll of 1,663 people (56 percent female) in 2005. Other popular internet sites were wizard Divination, Conveyor Belt sushi Divination, ramen noodles Divination, and Disney Movie Divination.3 the examples of Cake Divination, Conveyor Belt sushi Divination, and some of the other intentionally amusing types lead us to wonder about methods for organizing or classifying the many forms of divination that are available. How should we group them? Although tomoko made a distinction between “fun” types such as Cake Divination and older forms such as astrology or blood typology, this manner of classification is problematic because it depends on the classifier's attitudes or belief system. The scholar suzuki Kentarō (1995) used the distinction of face-to-face or non-face-to-face channels to organize his discussion of contemporary Japanese divination. Face-to-face channels include home fortune-tellers, street fortune-tellers, touring fortune-tellers, and telephone fortune-tellers. Non-face-to-face divination forms are accessed through media: magazines, books, tv, radio, the internet, and monthly journals. Although nicely human-centered, this system shifts away from the actual form of divination to the manner in which it is consumed. In looking at how divination is understood in girl culture, i often found that these categories are interwoven in how people think about and use them.
A common scheme for classifying the divination arts in Japan is to use how the divination method operates as the main criterion. This is the way many popular divination manuals and divination schools arrange their descriptions and offerings. For example, a vocational school in ebisu named akademeia College, which trains students to be professional fortune-tellers, divides the “divination arts” into categories depending on whether or not there is use of the person's birth date, the person's physical traits, or involves the manipulation of objects.
Divination that begins with the seeker's birth date is found in many older forms as well as newer types. Conservative author and tv personality Hosoki Kazuko is one of the most well known, and perhaps most vilified, of the divination experts who often appeared on tv in the 2000s. She has authored more than one hundred books that use the birth date as the basis for a modified Chinese-style astrological system called six star astrology (rokusei senjutsu). Dorman (2007) has tracked the ways that Hosoki manipulated her system in order to make it more appealing to conservatives and those concerned about the loss of “Japaneseness.” Hosoki is one of many so-called “charisma fortune-tellers” esteemed among the older crowd, but most girls told me they thought she was creepy or old-fashioned. Whenever i browsed through the divination sections of bookstores in tokyo, i rarely saw women under twenty reaching for any of the Hosoki books. Instead, they thumbed through cute editions describing newly invented divination types such as Penguin Divination (Ono 2007a), Panda Divination (Midori 2007), or white Bear Divination (Ono 2007b).
One birth-date-based divination craze popular among young women and girls is animal Divination (Dōbutsu Uranai), a new zoomancy that is quite different from the borrowed Chinese zodiac, which also aligns animals with birth years. In this new system, the twelve animals are pegasus, elephant, lion, cheetah, tiger, wolf, monkey, koala, black panther, sheep, raccoon dog, and fawn, and each is associated with one of four elements (earth, sun, full moon, and new moon). The comic artist Kubo Kiriko (1999 and several subsequent years) created adorable illustrations for a series of animal Divination books that sold millions of copies. There is even a cell phone application for accessing one's animal Divination fortune from noracom. Animal-type divination systems are so popular among girls that there are always new ones being created. Another animal system uses typical zoo creatures: gorilla, panda, elephant, Penguin, giraffe, alligator, cheetah, polar bear, zebra, hippo, and owl (Primavera 2008). The seeker finds out her (or his) zoo type by consulting a chart that lists zoo animal types by birth year and date.
A second classification for divination uses traits of the seeker's body or physical components. The popular indigenous typological system called ketsueki-gata is based on personality characterization according to blood types a, B, aB, and O. This type of classification had its origin during the taishō era (1912–1926) and became popular in later decades when it was proposed as a reliable method for understanding personality types. It has had immense cultural impact: numerous schools, corporations, and other institutions once used the system to organize work or study groups, and many ask for the applicant's blood type on job applications.4 every girl and young woman i have ever met in Japan knows her own blood type. One may buy condoms, Hello Kitty good luck charms, and diet pills geared to each of the four blood types. In many of the girl spaces i frequented as part of my research, blood typology often emerged as a motif or gimmick. One divination fad that several girls mentioned to me as a droll, non-serious sort that they did with their friends was Gundam (Gandamu) fortune-telling, in which characters from the famous animation series are paired with blood types a, B, aB, and O to yield forty-eight personality types (Gandamu Uranai Chō seisaku iinkai 2001).
A third method for organizing divination uses objects such as cards or stones that are manipulated or selected at random and are thought to be material manifestations of prophecy. Older and imported divination forms such as i-Ching, tarot cards, and crystals are examples of this object-based category. While i was hanging around a divination shop named wiz note, located in a northern area of tokyo popular for dining and entertainment (see below), i saw two schoolgirls spend almost thirty minutes debating about whether or not one of them should buy a deck of “rune” tarot cards, a good example of this category. They left the shop but returned a few minutes later to buy them. The alphabetic runes have long been associated with divination in europe, and this deck, created by charisma fortune-teller Kagami ryūji (2000), was antique-looking, with renaissance-style art together with the nordic runes. One tells fortunes with the twenty-four cards by placing them face down and selecting three at random that will suggest future outcomes.
Magazine companies, government agencies, university researchers, and marketing firms all routinely conduct surveys to determine people's beliefs about the efficacy of divination. A poll conducted by Goo research (2010), a private internet marketing research firm, shows that all these divination Methods are considered reliable. People who participated in the poll, which asked them which divination system they thought had the greatest chance of predicting the future, ranked palmistry as the most reliable (see table 10.1). The 2010 internet poll had 51.1 percent female respondents, nearly half of them under thirty. Two types, Four Pillars Divination and name Divination, tied for the number two spot. Four Pillars Divination (shichū suimei) was originally from China and uses the year, month, day, and hour of birth to predict the seeker's future. The well-known divination celebrity Hosoki Kazuko, mentioned above, created a technique she calls six star astrology based on this borrowed Chinese system, and it is ranked number four. Name Divination (seimei Handan) can take different forms, but most often it is a type of numerology derived from the character strokes found in the seeker's written name.
In addition to there being divination forms that rely on the seeker's birth date or physical traits or the manipulation of objects in this top-ten list, there are also types of divination that originate in Japan, China, and europe listed here as well. Such an eclectic mix illustrates another problem in the classification of divination: many of the types that are most popular among girls are hybrid forms that exploit multiple strategies and current interests. Consider Cat Characters Divination (tomono 2007). The seeker starts with his or her western zodiac sign and cross-checks it against his or her blood type; the
Table 10.1 Which divination type do you think has the highest predictive value?
2 Four Pillars Divination
2 name Divination
4 Six star astrology
5 Tarot Cards
6 Blood typology
7 Geomancy (feng shui)
9 Dream interpretation
10 Western Zodiac Cross-check yields one of twelve alphabet letters. Depending on one's sex, the seeker looks up his or her type under the assigned letter to determine which of twelve possible cat characters represent the forecast. The cats are manga characters such as yume, Michael, yukipon, Kuro, and Fukufuku. Manga drawings for each character are found throughout the book, and the presentation suggests that girls are the primary target for the book.
One particularly interesting system is Korean Food Divination (Kankoku Fūdo Uranai), an internet web site that determines one's personality type and forecast based on an assigned Korean dish. In this scheme, which is a hybrid of three different ways of categorization, the seeker uses a chart to locate his or her birth month and cross-references it with both blood type and Chinese astrological sign. This yields a number that one uses to check against a list of famous Korean foods and their linked forecasts.5 three women in their twenties who had traveled together to south Korea told me they liked this divination system not only because it was humorous, but also because it reminded them of the trip they took. During their time in seoul they first ate many types of Korean food that were new to them, so playing Korean Food Divination was a way to remember their experience and also to display to others their knowledge of Korean food types.
Another example that illustrates the way divination products and services are often linked to other fads is the combination of systems used to create Korean wave Face Divination (yanagi 2005). This system introduced Korean-style face reading, originally a divination system from China, with famous Korean pop stars as examples of particular facial types. The term “Korean wave” was coined to describe the influx of Korean popular culture into Japan, especially hit tv dramas, and the increase in fans of Korean cultural products from 2003. There are associated fortunes based on variation in eyebrow shape, nose type, ear type, mouth shape, eye shape, facial structure, and hairline pattern. One schoolgirl named Masako told me she liked the Korean wave Face Divination book because the illustrations reminded her of the main character in the tv drama series Dae Jang Geum (Jewel in the Palace in english titling), a historical series that follows the life of the first female imperial physician in Korean history. The book also includes information and maps for visiting divination cafés in seoul, with directions and explanations of the types of divination services found in different specialized coffee shops. This aspect of the divination industry—combining other amusements with fortune-telling—characterizes how divination is frequently consumed in tandem with other leisure pursuits.
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