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Saturday, Sep. 10, 2011

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

A guide to fortunetellers


Special to The Japan Times

Japan is a fortunetelling nation and so, to start, here is Truman Capote's famous line about fortunetellers . . .

They lie.

Which is not quite true. Actually, Capote said . . .

They fib.

And it wasn't really him. It was a character in one of his books.

A book which almost no one has read, so it's only famous in the cobwebbed corners of my mind.

But what is beyond doubt is that this nation is nutso over fortunetelling. First, you have your omikuji shrine drawings. Then you have your birthday and blood-type soothsayers. Then you have those who read luck into kanji strokes, star alignments and tea leaves. And last you have those eerie folks with the lanterns who unfold tables at the stations late at night and whisper over just you want to know. For a fee, of course.

And all of it a bunch of hooey. I know that for a fact, just as I know the word "hooey" is fun to type.

I know it is hooey because I have heard the vast majority of fortune seekers desire to know mostly one thing. Which is . . .

(Now here's the spot for a snappy line. Like . . . "What's for dinner?" Or . . . "Where'd I put my house key?" Or . . . "How much did the president know and when?" But the correct answer is . . . )

Love. People want to know about love.

And so fortunetellers shuffle their cards, rattle their sticks, gaze into their crystal balls and tell them.

While — if they really had any inkling at all about the future — they'd be handing out Lotto numbers. Or announcing the winner of the Japan Derby. Or informing the correct time and place of the next tsunami.

In other words something concrete. Love! Why anyone can prattle on about love! Give me a lantern and a folding table and I could do it too.

"Tell me . . . " My first customer is an office girl with big brown eyes surgically transplanted from a manga.

". . . Does Hiroshi love me?"

Easy question, easy answer:

"Are you a bowl of noodles? A pachinko machine? Or an oversexed bimbo? If so, the answer is . . . Yes — at certain times — Hiroshi loves you."

She gasps and stands, overturning her chair. Then dances down the street, screaming, "He loves me, he loves me!" While I scream after her, "That'll be ¥2,000!"

My next customer is the plump, overweight, chunky type. She wants to know if she will ever get married.

I rub the chocolate stains from her right palm and read between the lines.

"You will almost get married. You will be jilted at the altar by a millionaire movie star who will instead run away with a toothless lady he met in the park."

She turns frantic. "I knew it, I knew it, I just knew it!"

Which makes me wonder why she ever sought my aid. But wait, wait, I tell her . . . And then apply the one line that we fortunetellers live for.

I grab her left arm and say . . .

"But on the other hand . . . "

"I have never used that line in my life!" The speaker is a friend of mine who is an honest-to-gosh fortuneteller.

"That's because you read Tarot cards."

True. And she says the cards are not infallible. Yet, she is surprised at how often they are right.

I clink her glass and tell her she could increase that success even farther if she dropped Tarot cards and instead used taro root. "Tell your customers, 'Eat a full bucket of this and it will bind you up for an entire week. Bank on it.' And then dare them to prove you wrong."

Like most fortunetellers, she can put up with skeptics. Especially when they're buying drinks.

At least she has her box of cards. What do the Zodiac people do now that some astronomer has announced that the star charts are wrong? Oh horror of horoscopes!

It bums me a bit as well. For half a century I thought I was a Leo. Now I find I'm a Cancer.

And your comeback is: "Ah, that figures."

Actually, the only fortunetellers who earn my respect are those who read fish entrails. Personally, I'd rather read Martin Heidegger. Though, yes, the entrails might be easier.

And how about those guys who predict the end of the world and such by microscoping ancient calendars and scriptures and so on?

Well, two can play at that. I have just analyzed my own column and from hints hidden in the text, I hereby predict . . .

People will get old and die. Stocks will go up and down. Nighttime will continue to be dark and daytime light. And in the near future I will drink a MacDonald's milkshake. Chocolate, to be precise.

The key term in this cryptic reading, which I insist will be 200 percent accurate, is of course the word, "hooey."

Which can be etymologically traced to Truman Capote.

OK. No it can't. I fibbed.



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