In 2006 I stumbled onto a group of people, and then a part-time job, which were as bizarre as it feels for me to write this here: I became a Japanese Fortune Teller.
Yes, I know how ridiculous that must sound.
I arrived in Japan intending to stay for a while and and “make my bones” as a prize-fighter in early 2004. In 2006, at a birthday party, I met someone who immediately began pulling me into a community of Japanese mystics, hacks, disciples and gurus.
I’d been invited to the party of one of my private English students. A brief explanation: Kick boxing doesn’t pay much. In fact, most of the time it doesn’t pay at all. Add in the money for gear, food, and hospital bills if it comes to that, and that modest little fight purse, and whatever money you made selling tickets, is gone, and often over night. Everyone I know in the fight game besides the very most elite fighters, i.e. Masato and Ruslan, had some other gig. Personal training and coaching were normal. A lot of Ihara gym pros also worked as bouncers in Roppongi.
I did this as well, but I also was lucky to be a native English speaker, and giving private lessons at forty dollars an hour, to pretty Japanese women, wasn’t a bad deal.
One of my students, Yuka, invited me to her birthday party. She was turning 30 and still lived with her mother and sister in Shinagawa. Besides myself, Mike and Kou had also been invited. Mike, a Japanese-American who died in 2012, and I had become good friends from the gym, and he was deeply involved with the boss due to old connections through his father, who was Japanese. Kou, was Mike’s other wing man, an excellent Muay Thai fighter who had many bouts in Japan and Thailand, and was actually North Korean.
We arrived at the birthday party and were greeted by a room full of women. Older and younger, ages ranging from 19 to 70. We were literally the only three men there. Yuka, and her family, lived on the 17th floor of a sky rise apartment building with views of Tokyo bay. These were impressive digs and after hanging up my coat and having a glass of wine put in my hand by a random woman, I told Yuka so.
“Thank you. It’s my Mom’s flat. Let me introduce you.” She said.
I was led into the large, minimalist kitchen and there, surrounded by a group of ladies, all talking to each other but clearly standing around one person, I met her. Yuka’s mom was in her 60’s, and very attractive. She was wearing fitted jeans and a light blue cashmere sweater from Hermes. Her hair was brown, came to just below her ears and was shiny. She wore black rimmed glasses, and it took a conscious effort for me to stop checking her out; her bust was full, high and demanding of attention.
It was really hard to believe she was in her 60’s, as she easily could have passed for 40. If Yuka had introduced her as an older sister, I totally would have bought it. We shook hands lightly and she smiled being introduced with me. I immediately thought she was flirting with me. At this point, I’m a hairy tattooed gorilla, but in 2006, I was a bit of a looker, and I knew it. I’m not ashamed to say I had half an erection just shaking her hand. Yuka was no slouch in the looks department, and more than once, sitting in my office in Meguro, I’d considered how she might look in nothing but her birthday suit, and the conclusion was always very pleasing. But she had nothing on her mother.
Besides being so pretty and well put together, she simply oozed Charisma. It leaked out of every pore and completely filled the space around her, it was nearly tangible. I realized everyone was watching us shake hands.
Later, over dinner, conversation ensued and with Mike’s help, my Japanese was not particularly good back then, Yuka’s Mom, the fortune-teller, did a very precise reading with me. It was so accurate it was uncomfortable, and I purposefully misdirected and steered things out of areas I didn’t want to discuss in a room full of strangers. While she was doing this, the women in the room were enraptured. Utterly without exception, all of them, hung on her every word. It was silent in the apartment, aside from Yuka, opening wine and yawning, sprawled in a big chair in the other room, having seen all this before she couldn’t have cared less.
You see, she, Yuka’s Mom, was the leader, the Guru, the fortune-teller, and all these women were her students and disciples.
I hadn’t realized it, but Mike had already gotten involved with this group, having a similar experience done with him. Also, Reiko, his live in girlfriend; a stunning former Ginza hostess, had become a full-time student of the Guru. This wasn’t a simple thing to do. First, she only accepted women. Next, if she didn’t like you, forget about it, and her sensibilities were wildly subjective, as there was no clear pattern based on appearance or age remembering that gathering in the apartment. Finally, it was expensive. The full training, from learning the basics of the Numerology system, through what the Chinese call Feng Shui, the use of the i-ching, life cycling, and finally performing their version of an exorcist, took years to complete.
Yes, the Japanese, the people with “no religion”, believe in exorcism.
The prices could vary but in the beginning, the basic rate was 10,000 yen per hour, with students studying several hours per week with her.
Now, the cost of this could be mitigated easily enough if the student then began doing readings successfully for their own customers. Personally, I charged 5,000 yen per reading, and those could be 40 minutes or they could be 2 hours, depending on how things were going. More on that in a bit.
So, anyway, it was a profitable racket. The Guru had made her big money, the money that bought a luxury condo on the 17th floor, in the bubble. She would do readings for company CEOs who would choose to do multi-million dollar deals based on her advice. She once used a blessed frog in a board room meeting, it’s next hopping direction, to determine if a major Japanese company would by several buildings in New York City. These were the stories circulating amongst her disciples, and they had no reason not to believe it; The guru was rich, by all appearances, beautiful, and she always seemed to know exactly what people were doing.
How did I get pulled into this? I’m still not sure, but she decided to meet me, and teach me, for free, a couple hours a week. Saying “No” wasn’t an option either. Mike was so incredibly excited about it, and his girlfriend so incredibly jealous, that it was a foregone conclusion that I’d spend the time and learn what she wanted to teach me. Did I believe in Fortune Telling? Do I now? No. Well, not really. I think it’s possible that there are a very few special people alive, who might be able to feel some vibrations around or coming from others, but can it be learned? I think not.
What I do believe in and am fascinated by, is “Cold Reading.”
Cold Reading is a technique, widely used by “psychics” and “fortune tellers”, which allows you to talk to someone like you’ve known them for a long time. It’s patterns of speech and ways of phrasing things which make it seem like you have information you don’t, because the person you are speaking to is actually giving you this info, without realizing it.
Depending on who you ask, cold reading can be a fun party trick, or an evil form of manipulation. I’ve seen it being used as both. The Guru was an absolute, well, Guru at Cold Reading.
The actual Numerological system, which I detail here, serves two purposes.
First, it’s a third party, or an outside framework with which the fortune teller can refer to; it elicits cooperation from the customer. This way, it isn’t one person telling another person “Well, you seem to be a closet homo-sexual.” No, it’s the numbers that say this. See? Not me. This is a purposefully crude example but it both gets people to cooperate and legitimizes the Fortune Teller.
Second, it’s a wonderful distraction, full of broad statements which apply to lots of people, but seem personal. Ask any magician and they’ll tell you: misdirection is key. This rule doesn’t change in Fortune Telling.
Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled.
This is the first thing a good Fortune Teller does, and by “good”, I mean one who has customers coming back to them over and over again, often every week. They understand that they have to do three things in a session.
- Give the customer some good news. Cheer them up and give them hope.
- Give the customer some bad news. There is trouble coming in the future.
- Link all positive feelings and emotions to themselves, and make sure the customer knows the Fortune Teller has more to give them.
Like the quote above, people want to be fooled and we are always looking for a savior. It’s in our nature.
How did I start making money?
First, I practiced “readings” with private English students, all of them actually, and I had many. In fact, I aggressively looked for new students because they afforded me a chance to practice Fortune Telling. Mike and Reiko, they bought it all, the whole deal: special powers, seeing the future, The Guru, mystic energy, all of it. Not me. It seemed clear that I had to choose to believe a certain amount in the system, just like selling anything: if you believe in it the customer feels that.
But I also took things further, knowing that it was all an illusion, and it might due to prop that up with some something else. I started reading about NLP, or Neuro-Lingusitic-Programming. Anchoring, Future Pacing, Reframing; I was learning it all and plugging it into my readings. I began phonetically writing out phrases for this in Japanese and memorizing them, realizing the exact language was necessary. I got so used to these phrases, patterns of speech and physical movements I began doing them all the time, subconsciously.
I designed “Bio-Rythum” charts for the more committed customers and even made dietary restrictions based on the those rhythms. I went into homes and lectured about the placement of furniture or how a large bowl of water on a particular table would help to “Balance the awkward energy in the room”. By 2007 I had several solid clients, meeting me weekly at 5,000 yen per visit. By 2008 I had around 20. All but one of them were female, and most were in their 20’s, with no college education, and pretty. They were all pretty. I basically stopped doing private English lessons and focused entirely on Fortune Telling.
My first Disciple
In the early spring of 2008 I met Yufi. She was very attractive, looked almost identical to Reon Kadena, the gravure model, and we met specifically for Fortune Telling. Our first meeting was in Ebisu, at a cafe near the station after I’d finished training. Yufi was 21, half Korean and half Japanese, about 165 centimeters tall, and perfectly built. She worked at Starbucks down-town, serving lattes to Roppongi types who hit on her all day. Although she’d done some head shots, some bikini modeling, and had worked for MTV Japan, she wasn’t happy with her life in general and was looking for more.
I was the more.
Her first reading was an absolute home run. I perfectly described her, her past, her mother, her sister and even her estranged father. She fought back tears. I didn’t charge her for that first meeting and this worked, because she met me that Friday with an envelope with 100,000 yen in it. She wanted to learn Fortune Telling. It became clear that her mother was well off, they own a three story house in Hiroo, and Yufi could afford to do whatever she felt like doing.
Very well. We began spending a lot of time together. She would come when I told her to come and she listened to everything, taking notes. She was reading all the books I recommended, but I could tell she didn’t get it, not the real world parts anyway. I gave her NLP and Cold Reading resources which she didn’t respond to well, but everything about spiritual power and mystic energy enthralled her. She wanted to be a true believer. In some ways it was endearing. In other ways she reminded me of parts of myself from when I was younger and the reflection embarrassed and angered me, although I didn’t realize it then.
One evening, talking to a friend of mine, she referred to me and said I was “Like Jesus, but more important for her.” She wasn’t joking.
Why did it end?
I went to Jail.
When I got out, I was homeless and pretty messed up mentally. What a shock that Fortune Telling hadn’t helped me avoid the experience I sarcastically mumbled to myself, freezing in a sleeping bag filled with newspaper on the floor in an empty apartment.
By the mid summer of 2008 I was making around 300,000 yen a month fortune telling, sleeping with Yufi and treating her horribly, and a couple other people. I worked full time at another job and had a couple additional income streams. I was making nearly 9,000 USD a month, paying no taxes, drunk nearly every night and while indulging my every want and appetite, I was also destroying my kick boxing career. Then suddenly, I was a convicted felon, owed money to some serious people, had no job or home, hated everyone -most of all myself-, and I had become my own ridiculous punchline.
It was 2009 and I was forced to look at a lot of my behaviors and the determination was that many of them were dark, destructive and even dangerous. The Fortune Telling gig got thrown in with these, and I decide to not venture back into that.
Even the Fortune Telling community got upset with me when, in 2009 when we started this blog, I wrote about the Numerology system, and received late night phone calls with mumbling voices or breathing, Japanese letters in the mail in red ink, and finally a visit from Mike, him telling me if I did’t take down the post and stop telling people about it, something bad might happen to me.
That was actually the last time I saw him and I heard a year later some very serious people were looking for him. Two years after that I heard he was dead.
I don’t think the conclusion was wrong or undeserved, I mean for me to stop doing Fortune Telling, in the end it’s a con. Sure, it can help some people. I know I helped people work through some private issues, the same way a counselor or therapist might. I helped two people lose weight and get healthy with the dietary restrictions via bio-rythms. One friend applied for a particular job based on the advice I got from the i-ching, and today that’s his career. There was to be had there, but ultimately, it was all a scam, and that’s why I loved it.
Walking away was obviously the right call, but now writing this I can’t help but wonder, “Could you do it again? Do the tricks and techniques still work?”
And I can’t help thinking…
Great story, I wonder what happened to Yuka your student
No idea. But she was a smart woman who I think wanted to get away from Mom. My guess is she succeeded in that somehow. But who knows?