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Fortunetelling Craze Blends Tradition and Humor

December 2, 1999

Which of these animals do you think you are? (Nora/Kiriko Kubo/Shogakukan/Ships)

"It reads, 'You have an aggressive personality; that's because you're a tiger.'" "Sounds right. And it's because you're a fawn that you're everyone's pet." Conversations like this have lately become common among young people in Japan. They are talking about zoological fortunetelling--a variation on the better-known astrological horoscope--which has recently exploded in popularity. According to this system, each individual's birth date is associated with one of 12 animals representing one's personality. For instance, people classified as a monkey are said to possess innocence and popularity, while "raccoon dogs" tend to navigate their way through life smoothly. In addition, one can identify which animal types are most compatible with one's own, as well as the chances of success with a romantic partner. While zoological fortunetelling is especially popular with women in their twenties, people of all ages are becoming hooked on the fad.

A Clever Mix
In the East, a theory based on the concepts of yin and yang and the five natural elements (fire, wood, earth, metal, and water) has traditionally been used to predict extraordinary natural occurrences and individual fortune. Zoological fortunetelling, introduced as a serial in a comic magazine, puts a modern spin on this ancient tradition with its use of interpretations based on social and behavioral psychology.

In the series the 12 animals--the lion, cheetah, pegasus, elephant, monkey, wolf, koala, tiger, black panther, sheep, raccoon dog, and fawn--are depicted as comical characters by popular cartoonist Kiriko Kubo. Their cute portrayal is one major reason for the popularity of this new fortunetelling method. A paperback volume was published on May 11, 1999, and sold over 1.5 million copies in the first six months, rising to the top of the bestseller list. One major book retailer predicts that the volume will have been the store's "bestselling paperback of the year."

Animal Village Online
Zoological fortunetelling has its own official Website (Japanese only), which includes a free automatic service that judges an individual's animal type. The site has been so popular, however, that it has frequently crashed under the weight of traffic caused by visitors trying to access it. In response a renewed and expanded site was launched on November 16, 1999. While users can still discover their animal type and read about their distinguishing traits for free, the site additionally includes a fan club that, with a monthly fee of 800 yen (7.62 U.S. dollars at 105 yen to the dollar), provides members with their daily fortune by way of e-mail. One convenience store chain also provides animal fortunetelling through computer terminals: A user would input his or her personal data in the terminal, and, four or five days later, a detailed paper printout of that person's fortunes would arrive by mail, sealed in a special envelope. Though the service requires a fee, more than 2,000 people use it per day.

Conversation Lead-In
Japanese people popularly use blood types and astrological horoscopes to gauge personalities. One secret to the success of zoological fortunetelling lies in the ingenuity of employing animals as easy-to-understand metaphors for classifying personality types. Offering another explanation for the fad, an expert on youth culture says, "Having one's personality spelled out in explicit terms can be a blow to the psyche. Using animals to represent the human character is more abstract and playful, and therefore less threatening."

This association of personality and fortune with cute, comical animals also offers an amusing source of conversation. It can be funny, for instance, when someone's animal turns out to be a ridiculous match for his or her appearance. Zoological fortunetelling looks set to establish itself as a vital communication tool among young people.

Some Famous People's Animal Classifications
Hikaru Utada (best-selling teenage pop singer): black panther. A smart planner on top of the trends of the day. Contrary to what others may expect, concerned with other people's perceptions of oneself.

Daisuke Matsuzaka (pro baseball pitcher; Pacific League's 1999 rookie of the year): sheep. Cool, objective, and makes keen, accurate remarks. Quick to look after the needs of others. Dislikes being alone.

Michael Jordan (NBA superstar): pegasus. A genius with a freewheeling sensitivity. Hates to be constrained. An individual of many mysteries.

Bill Clinton (president of the United States): raccoon dog. Good at giving favorable responses; likable attitude, despite being absent-minded. Deft at navigating through life.

Keizo Obuchi (prime minister of Japan): sheep. Upright. Adept at forming personal connections and gathering information. Has an unexpectly stubborn side.

Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.