Using Japanese beliefs in superstitions

April 27, 2003

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Commentator Sharon Moshavi was recently in a quandary. But she didn't turn to her family for advice. Moshavi lives in Japan , and decided to do as the Japanese do and seek some more cosmic insight into her life.


My Japanese friend Junko and I like to call 1) _________ other up and complain, and lately we've had plenty 2) _________ complain about: work problems, men problems, medical issues, as 3) _________ as run-of-the-mill existential crises. One day, Junko decided our 4) _________ of bad luck was more than just coincidence. `We're 5) _________ a yakudoshi,' she said. `A what?' I asked. `A 6) _________,' she said, `an inauspicious year. It can affect women 7) _________ their 30s,' she explained, and she knew exactly what 8) _________ had to do about it. We had to be 9) _________. This is Japan after all, where taxi drivers hang amulets 10) _________ their rear-view mirrors to ward off accidents and people 11)_________ Shinto priests to bless their new cars. Junko, a 12) _________ career woman, believes in all of these things wholeheartedly.

13) _________was ready to throw logic to the wind and 14) _________ myself purified when another friend, Yuko, stepped in. `Forget 15)_________ the purification,' she said. `What you need is a 16) _________ fortune telling,' the Japanese version of going to a 17) _________. In Japan , people choose their fortune-tellers with the care 18) _________ Americans take in choosing a surgeon. People here take 19) _________ superstition very seriously.

I realize that in my heart of hearts I 20) _________ taking it seriously, too. I was actually scared. Of 21) _________ it's absurd, of course it's sheer chicanery. If I 22) _________ a good fortune--you know, I live to be 23) _________ hundred and win the lottery--I'd laugh it off. 24) _________ what if my fortune was terrible? What if I 25) _________ about to hear that I was going to die 26) _________ horrible early death? I was face to face with 27) _________ inner irrationality and I didn't like it one bit.

28) _________ only way to win that battle, to prove such 29) _________ was indeed nonsense, was, of course, to go and 30) _________ the fortune-teller. He turned out to be a small 31) _________ who looked exactly like a carnival barker in a 32) _________ pinstripe suit and white-on-white tie, but he had a 33) _________, almost professorial manner. On place mat-sized paper, he sketched 34) _________ charts that looked like EKGs. My future didn't hold 35) _________ especially bad, he said. Emboldened, I pressed for more 36) _________. Would my novel get published? Would I have children? 37) _________ gazed at the charts and he said I would 38) _________ to make the most of my opportunities.

I was 39) _________ and, to be honest, annoyed by all his vagueness, 40) _________ I also felt something else well up inside my 41) _________: relief. There was no wonderful news, but no horrible 42) _________, either. For the first time, I felt the power 43) _________ charm of superstition. Of course, it demands relinquishing a 44) _________ amount of control, not an easy thing for a 45) _________ freak like myself. I think I'm like many Americans. 46) _________ believe in our unlimited powers. We take credit for 47) _________ success and accept the blame for our failures. Maybe, 48) _________ maybe, it isn't up to us. Maybe it is 49) _________ in the stars.

A comforting thought, but what if 50)_________stars conspire against you? My friend Yuko has an 51) _________ for that one. `You just try another fortune-teller and, 52) _________ necessary, get another. As many as it takes,' she 53) _________, `to find a fortune you like.'

NEARY: Sharon Moshavi lives and wonders about her future in Japan.


1. What did Sharon's friend Junko recommend they do about their "bad luck?"


2. What did her friend Yuko recommend?


3. According to Sharon, how do Japanese people think of fortune-telling?


4. Did the fortune-teller give Sharon clear answers to her questions? Explain.


5. How did Sharon feel after talking to the fortune-teller?