Japanese fortune tellers come under increased scrutiny

The Yomiuri Shimbun


TOKYO — Victims of fraudulent fortune-tellers are on the increase with large sums of money changing hands after they have been told their "spiritual powers" are at a low ebb.

Authorities contend that the popularity of some fortune-tellers and spiritual advisers is one reason why people let down their guard and succumb to fraudulent ruses.


In many cases, fortune-tellers use psychological means to extort money from those seeking advice.

One religious organization, Koun no Hikari, was ordered by the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry in March to close its "change of fortunes" business, set up under the name of Takashima Ekidan Sohonbu, which it suspected of using fraudulent means to obtain money from the gullible.

In 2005, at a gathering organized by Koun no Hikari at a hotel in Kanagawa Prefecture, a woman in her 70s sought the advice of a female fortune-teller in regard to her eldest son’s business.

The following exchange took place:

Fortune-teller: "Your son’s spiritual power is waning and his life force is weakening (a reference to her I Ching sticks)."

Woman: "How can he recover his spiritual power?"

Fortune-teller: "You should pay 1 million yen for a year’s worth of prayers."

Woman: "I can’t afford that."


Fortune-teller: "Well let’s give you a special discount then."

The fortune-teller reduced the amount to 730,000 yen and the following day the woman withdrew this amount from her bank account and handed it over.

"She may have taken advantage of my maternal feelings toward my child," the woman lamented.

The following year, the woman attended a similar gathering organized by another organization, during which she was told about a "decline in spiritual power" by a male fortune-teller clad in haori and hakama — a type of kimono worn by men. This time she handed over 500,000 yen.

In an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun, the male fortune-teller denied he had cheated the woman out of the money.

"It was an appropriate amount to cover prayers every morning and evening with offerings of fruit and fish," he said.

Consumer consultation centers across the nation received 1,890 complaints in fiscal 2003 about schemes that make money out of "changing the fortunes" of clients. This figure increased to 2,928 in fiscal 2007.

A former fortune-teller of Takashima Ekidan Sohonbu said: "I became a trainee around 1990. First of all, I was ordered to memorize a book of actual examples used."


The book was a few centimeters thick. Only those who memorized the book and passed a test based on it were allowed to attend the fortune-telling meetings, the former fortune-teller said.

The book said that if the advice-seeker was a woman, the fortune-teller should say, "You are possessed by the ghost of an unborn baby."

If the woman responded that she had never had a miscarriage or abortion, the book told the fortune-teller to say, "Well, it must be the ghost of your mother’s lost baby."

The former fortune-teller said the praying fees were decided on a case-by-case basis depending on how wealthy the advice-seeker appeared to be.

At first the former fortune-teller thought that this was all there was to fortune-telling, but doubts emerged after encountering many advice-seekers racked with anxieties. This ultimately led to the decision to quit the job.

The former fortune-teller said: "On one occasion, 30 fortune-tellers earned more than 1 billion yen in 10 days. I think it’s clear to many of them that they’re just doing it for the money."

Copies of the book of examples were found during inspections by the ministry. But a member of Koun no Hikari said, "We never make fortune-tellers say that the spiritual power of an advice-seeker is waning without referring to the fortune-telling results."

Hiroshi Watanabe, a lawyer working for victims of emotionally manipulative sales techniques, warned members of the public to be on their guard.

"These businesses offering a change of fortunes are operated by professionals with a deep knowledge of how to manipulate the emotions of other people. Even if you are cautious, you can still end up being cheated," he said.


(c) 2008, The Yomiuri Shimbun.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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