"In any case, you're going to fall into hell!" With that,
Kazuko Hosoki, Japan's most famous fortune teller, brushed off a well-known
actor who dared question her "reading" of his allegedly irresponsible
behavior toward his children on the Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) network
August 17, 2004. A formidable matronly figure with a sharp tongue and quick
wit, Hosoki, 67, is a hit with Japanese viewers, who tune in in large
numbers to watch her semi-regular TBS show, Zubari iu wa yo! ("I'm
gonna give it to you straight!"). She also makes regular appearances on
TBS's rival, Fuji Television.
Over the past two decades, Hosoki has moved from being
merely a "fortune teller to the stars" to a general lifestyle guru - and an
object of close media scrutiny as well. Her face is regularly featured in
subway advertisements for tabloids claiming to dish the latest dirt on her.
Last August, for example, the weekly magazine Shžkan
Shinch™ ran a story that purported to expose weaknesses in her
predictions. But while such criticism has plagued her since the beginning of
her public career as a fortune teller in the early 1980s, it hasn't hurt her
Hosoki's success rests, to a large extent, on the
divination books that she has been producing at an extraordinary rate since
1982. In 2001, the Guinness Book of Records, citing 34 million in
sales, pronounced her to be the world's "Best-selling Author of Fortune
Various forms of divination have long been practiced in
Japan at Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, and by a number of new religious
movements. Divination is available in multiple formats, from traditional
booth fortunetelling and print media to Internet websites. Writing in the
major daily Asahi Shinbun in the fall of 2003, Taken Maruyama
estimated that the Japanese spend over $9 billion on divination annually.
Hosoki claims to have derived her particular system,
rokusei senjutsu, from Chinese divination. People's lives are said to
operate in 12-year cycles divided into four three-year periods. The final
period, satsukai ("the world of death"), is a time when misfortune
and disaster may occur.
Toward the end of 2004, Hosoki announced that she herself
was about to go through a period of satsukai. But to the surprise of
her critics, she continued her television appearances, going so far as to
state, on a TBS four-hour prime time special that aired September 6, that
she was "cruising through it and having a great time." If one knows the
fundamental principles of enduring the inevitable satsukai period,
she explained, one can get through it with no difficulty. All her books have
sections on how people can avoid the negative effects of satsukai.
Hosoki's life has not lacked for color. In her late
teens, she began managing a series of clubs and coffee shops in Tokyo,
eventually opening a club of her own. By the time she was 21, she had
married, divorced, and incurred large debts. She ended up being pursued by
gangsters, whose loans she finally paid back.
In 1983, she married Masahiro Yasuoka, a nationalist
intellectual and spiritual advisor to many high-ranking members of Japan's
political and business elite, including a number of postwar prime ministers.
Hosoki states in her books that Yasuoka taught her about Confucianism,
Taoism, and Chinese divination. He died the same year they married, and
shortly thereafter she began appearing in the gossip columns of weekly
magazines as a fortune teller to Japanese celebrities.
Although the divination industry is big business in
Japan, it is important to understand, as sociologist Hiroyuki Taneda pointed
out a few years ago, that the public does not necessarily believe
that divination works. For that reason, Taneda argued, fortune tellers need
to develop strategies to convince consumers of the value of their teachings.
Part of Hosoki's strategy has been to have her divination incorporate
ancestor worship, a major form of Japanese religious practice.
According to Japanese folk wisdom, if ancestors are not
venerated, their spirits will cause problems for the living. Traditionally,
ancestors were venerated as household gods. Responsibility for this lay with
male descendents; indeed, it was taboo for a wife to bring her own ancestral
tablets or memorials into her husband's home.
While modernization and urbanization gradually led to the
disintegration of such ancient household practices, the Japanese public
continues to embrace beliefs associated with ancestors. Nowadays, practices
and beliefs connected to ancestor worship are particularly associated with
Buddhism, which many contemporary Japanese rely on for rituals surrounding
funerals and death. Some new religious movements also incorporate elements
of ancestor worship.
In 1985, the same year that she published her first
bestseller (a primer exclusively devoted to divination), Hosoki also brought
out Change Your Destiny Through Ancestor Worship, which invoked
commonly accepted religious ideas and made frequent references to kami
(gods) and hotoke (Buddhas). And although, over the years, she has
continued to publish on divination alone, a number of her books have focused
on how rokusei senjutsu grounds divination in ancestor
worship. This system's ancient "shared" wisdom - which she claims is
scientific, rational, commonsensical, and virtually forgotten by people
today - holds that:
avoided programming clairvoyants, spiritual healers, and new age mysticism.
Since then, however, there has been a revival of sorts, and Hosoki is one
its major figures.
Writing in Seikyô Shinbun,
the newspaper of the major religious movement Sôka
Gakkai, on August 17, Shinpei Higashi portrayed Hosoki (without referring to
her by name) as part of a new "age of shamanism" in Japan. Rather than
seeking answers to problems by themselves, Japanese citizens are, in
Higashi's view, relying more and more on fortune tellers and clairvoyants
who write books and appear on television.
By way of example, he pointed to a recent TV program in
which Hosoki issued a stern warning for people never to place photographs of
the deceased on a Buddhist altar. The M.C., a popular male comedian,
responded by saying, "You're teaching us things we've all forgotten."
Higashi's point was that such programs set up people like Hosoki as
fountains of "lost" knowledge whose pronouncements go unchallenged.
In fact, nothing is more striking about Hosoki than her
emergence as an arbiter of contemporary Japanese mores. Recent TV programs
have featured her facing large rows of schoolgirls and berating the more
insolent ones for their "shameful" ways of dressing and disrespect for
elders. She has also locked horns with high school teachers over the state
of the educational system. (It is, she feels, failing society because it has
abandoned "traditional values.")
Such programs are advertised with close-ups of Hosoki
glaring at the hapless objects of her wrath, their lips quivering in
anticipation of withering verbal criticism. The ratings soar.
As Japan's preeminent media shaman, Hosoki is symptomatic
of a broader turn to - or nostalgia for - the old social verities in the
wake of the collapse of the real estate bubble of the 1980s as well as the
Aum disaster. This phenomenon is reflected in the animated films of Hayao
Miyazaki, such as Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, which
amount to a religious critique of postwar Japanese materialism and
To be sure, Hosoki does not herself reject the things of
this world. On the contrary: A recent TV program showed her swanning around
Switzerland spending thousands on clothes and jewelry. Her message is that
while Japanese people should reach back to the past for answers to their
problems in the present, there is no need to eradicate the desire to
How deeply the revival of spiritual traditionalism will
affect Japanese society is anybody's guess. For now, however, talented
self-promoters like Hosoki are exploiting it brilliantly.